Where In the World Is Steelers O-Lineman Zach Banner?

Photo obtained from Steelers.com

I was perusing the 2021 Pittsburgh Steelers Spotrac page, my source for players’ salaries, to see different players’ impacts on the salary cap.  The expected suspects are at the top.  Future Hall of Famers Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Heyward, Pro Bowlers Joe Haden and T.J. Watt, and the third most accurate field kicker of all-time, Chris Boswell.  All players that make sense.

Then there are players toward the top I’m not particularly happy about but I can live with.  Devin Bush was a top-10 pick so, even though he has not even come close to playing like one, he has an expectedly high contract.  Eric Ebron was an attempt to fill the giant hole Heath Miller left behind in this offense so I get that.  Also, as much as the Derek Watt contract bothers me, there is a piece of me that thinks it helped re-sign T.J, plus, I am to understand he is good on Special Teams. 

Then I scroll further and just out of the Top 10 is *record scratch* Zach Banner.  If not for his social media presence and his folk hero status after being “reported as eligible” on the goal line several times in 2019, nobody would know who Zach Banner is.  He has started just two games in his entire NFL career.  One was in 2019 and the other was the season opener in 2020 where he suffered an ACL injury that knocked him out for the rest of the season.  

Despite all of that the Steelers re-signed Banner for 2-years and $4.5 million.  Unfortunately, with his $2.8 million cap hit, good for 11th on the team, he has yet to play this season. Trai Turner is the only offensive lineman on the Steelers that has a larger impact on the cap and he is a 7-year veteran with nearly 100 games started at the guard position.  So it really does beg the question, where in the world is Zach Banner is why did the Steelers sign him to a 2-year, $4.5 million contract?

Medically Cleared

Banner was cleared to practice three weeks into the season and medically cleared to play for the Seahawks game on October 17th.  The Steelers made the decision to rest Banner against the Seahawks, a game before the bye, assuming the team felt the extra rest would be good for him.  That is understandable.  Teams often use the game before a bye in this way.  Fantasy Football owners know that if their Questionable fantasy player is one week before their bye, they are more likely to sit that game than start.  However, Banner not playing this Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, after the bye, is unexplainable.

This would tell me one of two things:  Banner is either not in good enough playing shape despite being medically cleared to play or he is not acclimating to the new Matt Canada offense quick enough despite practicing now for many weeks.  Regardless, both instances would be an indictment on Banner.  Perhaps the Steelers are quickly realizing that they made a mistake with this signing and Zach Banner is no better than the rag tag group of guys they have starting for them now. 

Neither the current offensive line, nor the offense as a whole, are performing well enough that there would be any worry a new starter would disrupt anything.  Running back Najee Harris has started to get the run game going but I would attribute that more to him breaking tackles than the O-line performing at a high level.  There are several videos of Banner’s replacement, Chuks Okorafor, getting beat or defenders simply running passed him during Sunday’s game against Cleveland.  It is certainly not a Drew Bledsoe situation where the Patriots simply could not pull Tom Brady once Bledsoe was healthy enough to play.  This is a Zach Banner problem.