PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ new-look offensive line won’t include right tackle Zach Banner.
The team cut the charismatic Banner on Wednesday, a move that will save them $5 million against the salary cap and ends Banner’s comeback bid from a torn ACL that cost him two seasons and eventually his starting job.
Banner’s release came two days after the Steelers re-signed tackle Chukwuma Okorafor to a three-year deal to stay at right tackle opposite left tackle Dan Moore Jr., who was thrust into a starting spot protecting Ben Roethlisberger’s blindside as a rookie in 2021 after Okorafor was moved from the left side to the right after Banner hit a setback in his recovery.
The popular Banner earned the starting spot going into the 2020 season opener before getting hurt. The Steelers were encouraged enough by his rehab to sign him to a two-year, $9.5 million contract last spring.
Banner appeared to tweak his knee, however, during the 2021 preseason. He was activated in October but never returned to the top of the depth chart. He played just 32 total snaps last season, all but five of them on special teams.
Pittsburgh is in the midst of overhauling a line that underperformed last season while finishing 29th in yards rushing and allowing 38 sacks, the franchise’s highest single-season total since 2013.
The Steelers signed versatile former Chicago Bears interior lineman James Daniels and former Minnesota Vikings lineman Mason Cole to multi-year contracts. The right guard position is open after the team opted not to bring back Trai Turner. The arrival of both Daniels and Cole and the retention of center J.C. Hassenauer leaves the status of Kenrick Green uncertain. Green struggled while transitioning from guard to center as a rookie.
The line will be in charge of opening holes for promising running back Najee Harris and protecting a quarterback who will be a full-time starter in Pittsburgh for the first time following Roethlisberger’s retirement.
The Steelers signed former Chicago and Buffalo quarterback Mitch Trubisky to a two-year contract and also brought back Dwayne Haskins for a second season to compete with Trubisky and Mason Rudolph for the right to take over the job created when Roethlisberger stepped away following an 18-year career.
Pittsburgh took a flyer on Haskins, a first-round pick by Washington in the 2019 draft, last January. He spent all of 2021 as the third-stringer behind Roethlisberger and Rudolph, though general manager Kevin Colbert said repeatedly the team had seen enough to bring Haskins back for 2022.
Colbert said last month that Rudolph was the starting quarterback for 2022, though at the time he said it Rudolph was technically the only quarterback on the roster under contract for next season. Now he’ll be joined by two former first-round picks trying to resurrect their respective careers.
Trubisky flamed out in four seasons in Chicago and spent 2021 as the backup to Josh Allen in Buffalo. While Trubisky’s performance was erratic with the Bears, he does offer the kind of mobility the Steelers haven’t seen at the position in a generation.
The Steelers also addressed a need at cornerback by signing former Buffalo defensive back Levi Wallace to a two-year contract. Wallace spent four seasons in Buffalo, picking off six passes in 52 starts. Pittsburgh is in the midst of a makeover in the secondary with cornerbacks Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon both entering free agency.
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