For five seasons from 2016-2019 and then 2021, the Pittsburgh Steelers took great comfort in knowing that experienced, versatile interior offensive lineman B.J. Finney was often healthy and had a helmet on game days.
During his five seasons in Pittsburgh, Finney went from an undrafted free agent out of Kansas State that was emotional after signing with his childhood favorite team, to a consistent, dependable piece in the trenches behind guards Ramon Foster and David DeCastro and center Maurkice Pouncey.
Finney played in 66 career games for the Steelers, starting 15 in that same span. While he won’t go down as one of the best UDFAs in franchise history and won’t land a spot in the Hall of Honor, Finney shouldn’t be forgotten for the key reserve role he played as the Steelers continued to chase Lombardi trophies late in the Hall of Fame career of Ben Roethlisberger.
Now, in a new era and the rebuild seemingly complete in the trenches from a starting lineup perspective, the Steelers under GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl need to find their own version of Finney moving forward.
Granted, there are some candidates on the roster who could move into that Finney role as the swing backup guard/center combination and step in during a moment’s notice to provide solid snaps for the franchise. But that candidate might not be on the roster — yet — either.
It might not be a glamorous position and won’t be viewed as a huge need by much of the fan base, but after making significant changes along the offensive line in recent seasons, the focus needs to be on depth and versatility behind the projected starting five. That focus should start on finding the next Finney.
As I stated above, there are some internal candidates on the roster already who could fill that Finney role.
Let’s take a look:
Nate Herbig — Herbig is the obvious candidate here, one that many will undoubtedly point to who should and likely will be the guy to be that swing interior offensive lineman. Herbig has plenty of starting experience from his time with the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets, and he signed with the Steelers in the offseason, reuniting with Weidl. Herbig has played in 44 career games, starting 29 through his first four seasons in the league. During that same span, Herbig has played 1,648 snaps at right guard, 377 snaps at left guard and just 49 snaps at center.
It might be a bit of a stretch to envision him as the true swing interior offensive lineman with center capability. The 49 snaps shows he can play there, but that’s a very small sample size with an extreme projection. Still, he was signed for a reason and is an experienced player.
Kendrick Green — I can see the eyes rolling reading Kendrick Green’s name. Look, I get it. I do. But if there’s a way to stick on this roster, it’s to win the backup center job behind Mason Cole. Add in the fact that he played some guard last summer during training camp and it’s clear he has the position versatility. He was a guard in college, too, and his athletic traits best suit him for guard where he can be out on the move. He was a disastrous experiment as the starting center, but if he shows something in training camp at center and guard, he could slot in as the swing interior offensive linemen. He likely wouldn’t give fans that comforting feeling that Finney did though.
Spencer Anderson — If there’s one guy on the roster who can truly do it and fits the Finney role to a T, it’s Anderson. The seventh-round pick played all five positions along the offensive line at Maryland, and then went through the pre-draft process as a center. He has the size (6’5″, 309 pounds) and the overall experience. He’s a decent athlete too with passable feet, though his testing numbers were rather poor. He’s much better in pass protection than in the run game though and would rneed to find that physicality in his game to really be able to handle the Finney role. Still, that positional versatility and experience is tantalizing.
The Steelers very clearly aren’t shy about turning over every single stone to shore up issues on the roster and put together the best team they can ahead of the 2023 season. They’re already doing so at cornerback, inside linebacker and likely outside linebacker in the months ahead, so why not a depth piece in the trenches?
Let’s look at some free agent candidates that could be possible fits in the Finney role on Pat Meyer’s offensive line.
Matt Skura — The Steelers know Skura well, having gone against him a number of times during his four seasons in Baltimore. He’s dealt with some significant injuries in the past, including a torn ACL in 2019, which ultimately ended his time in Baltimore. A former UDFA out of Duke and a Pittsburgh native, Skura has played the last two seasons with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams and has racked up 1,130 career snaps at left guard, 2,580 at center and 785 at right guard. He is 30 years old and would need to pass a physical, but he’s a guy whom the Steelers are quite familiar with and would significantly shore up the interior on the depth chart.
Billy Price — A first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2018 by the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers know Price quite well, much like Skura. Like Skura, Price has dealt with some significant injuries in his career, including a torn pectoral that caused him to miss some time in his rookie season. The torn pec happened during the bench press at the Combine. Since then, Price has had an up and down career, but that hasn’t kept teams from taking a shot on him. In his five seasons in the league (three with Bengals, one with the New York Giants and one with Arizona last season) Price has played 3,091 career snaps. Of those career snaps, 2,435 have come at center, while 478 have come at left guard and 177 at right guard.
Pat Elflein — Another Ohio State product here, and one with positional versatililty while still being just 28 years old, Elflein could fit the Finney role. A third-round pick in 2017 by the Minnesota Vikings, Elflein has bounced between center and left guard throughout his career but seems to have settled into the center role after a rough first two seasons in Minnesota. In his career, Elflein, who has also spent time with the Jets and Carolina Panthers during his six-year career, has played in 4,030 snaps, with 1,370 coming at left guard and 2,608 at center.
The names both internally and externally might not be big headliners, and might not move the needle for some fans, but at this point in the offseason teams are looking for experience, versatility and relatively cheap depth. Free agents like Skura, Price and Elflein all fit that description.
After the last two offseasons in which the Steelers overhauled a rather putrid offensive line — they brought in Mason Cole, James Daniels, Isaac Seumalo and Herbig in free agency, and drafted Broderick Jones — the Steelers need to focus on addressing the depth on the interior of the offensive line.
There are options out there. We’ll see if the Steelers can find that next B.J. Finney type.