When talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers group of upcoming free-agents, reserve offensive lineman Chris Hubbard probably doesn’t enter into most discussions among fans and the media.
But that’s the thing about backup offensive linemen in the National Football League:
- You never know when you’re going to need them.
Such was the case for the Steelers and Hubbard early last season, when starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert and veteran backup swing tackle Ryan Harris were both lost in a 43-14 Sunday night victory over the Chiefs at Heinz Field.
Capsule Profile of Chris Hubbard’s Steelers Career
Chris Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted rookie free-agent out of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), bounced back and forth between the team’s practice squad and active roster during 2013, 2014 and 2015 before finally finding a permanent job among the final 53 in 2016.
Its a bit ironic when you look back, as Mike Golic Jr. and Nik Embernate aka “Embernasty” got all the headlines when the Steelers 2013 undrafted rookie free agent class was announced, but four years later, it was Chris Hubbard who was suiting up for the AFC Championship game.
A versatile lineman who can play guard, center and tackle, Hubbard proved his worth against Kansas City in that aforementioned Week 4 match-up, as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had perhaps his best game of the season, passing for 300 yards and five touchdowns.
With Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris both ruled out against the Jets seven days later, Chris Hubbard got his first career start at right tackle. The result: a more than satisfactory performance in a 31-13 Steelers victory over the Jets at Heinz Field.
- A week later, Chris Hubbard struggled quite a bit in a 30-15 loss at Miami, as Pittsburgh also lost Ben Roethlisberger with a torn meniscus.
Chris Hubbard started two more games at right tackle before Marcus Gilbert finally returned from his ankle injury, and the young lineman would remain the backup tackle the rest of the year, as Ryan Harris, who suffered a shin injury against the Chiefs, ultimately had to be placed on Injured Reserve.
Pro’s & Con’s of Steelers Decision to RFA Tender to Chris Hubbard
As the Steelers approach free-agency, Hubbard is of the restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers retain the right of first refusal should any other team offer Chris Hubbard a contract.
- Will there be any offers for Hubbard, 25? Probably not. Should have tendered him a right of first refusal option (as they have) anyway?
If you were to say linemen of Hubbard’s pedigree are a dime a dozen, you would be correct. If you also were to say that Jerald Hawkins, Pittsburgh’s fourth round pick out of LSU in 2016, is someone the team probably is counting on to make strides in 2017, you are also surely correct.
- Fact is, the Steelers seem set at both tackle positions for the near-future.
Marcus Gilbert is signed through 2019, while left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who only has two years of NFL experience and is an exclusive-rights free-agent, meaning he simply must take whatever offer Pittsburgh gives him.
- However, Ryan Harris’ decision to retire creates a clear need for depth at offensive tackle for the Steelers
A year ago Chris Hubbard was a “nice to have” type player to have on your depth chart, now he’s one play away from protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside.
Obviously, the Steelers could fill the backup tackle void with just about anyone, but why not with a player who has been in their system for some time now and also has had and will continue to have the privilege of being coached my Mike Munchak, perhaps the best in the business at what he does and certainly the most respected assistant coach on Pittsburgh’s staff.
Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Chis Hubbard
When you see the improvements of the likes of Marcus Gilbert and more notably Alejandro Villanueva in recent years, Chris Hubbard is certainly in good hands, and if any offensive line coach can get max out of his abilities, it’s Steelers offensive line coach Mike Munchak.
- The Steelers have already offered Chris Hubbard a right of first refusal tender to Chris Hubbard.
Exact figures for 2017’s right of first refusal offers are suggested to be in the 1.85 million dollar range. So its doubtful that another team will try to sign Chris Hubbard away.
Its says here the Steelers made the right move in protecting Chris Hubbard. The Steelers have invested heavily in his development, and the truth is Chris Hubbard will be on someone’s roster in 2017. He he might as well be on the Steelers’ because you just never know when his services will be needed.