By this time next week, all hell will be breaking loose in the NFL. Either there will be a new CBA in place and teams will be making roster moves with that in mind to get ready for the start of the new league year – and the free agency it brings – March 18. Or, there won’t be a new CBA and teams will still be scrambling to get in compliance with the rules in place for that scenario.

The confusing thing for teams is that the rules for each scenario are decidedly different. So, they’re playing a waiting game until the vote comes in at noon Thursday.

Then the rush will begin.

For the Steelers, that will likely mean releasing guard Ramon Foster, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo and inside linebacker Mark Barron.

If the new CBA is passed, that should give the Steelers enough money to place the franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree. If it isn’t passed, they might have more work to do in order to make that happen.

Ideally, sources say, the team wants to keep tight end Vance McDonald, on whom Pittsburgh holds a $5.5-million option for 2020. But if there’s no new CBA, that might be difficult.

The problem for the Steelers is that the only other tight end on the roster with NFL experience is Zach Gentry, who played fewer than 50 snaps as a rookie in 2019. And this year is not a great draft in which to be in the market for a starting tight end.

The Steelers would save that $5.5 million against their cap by declining the option on McDonald. But they would probably have to go the free-agent route to get a replacement. And that would cost somewhere close to $5.5 million.

So they’ll stick with the status quo – if the new CBA is approved.

  • From everything I’m hearing, the new CBA will be approved. It increases the payouts so much for the players at the bottom of the roster that they will likely vote yes on it.
  • One surprise move the Steelers might make is to not tender an offer to restricted free-agent cornerback Mike Hilton.

Hilton played well last year after a sub-par 2018 season. But he’s always a player who is going to have limitations because of his lack of speed and size.

The Steelers have Cameron Sutton waiting to take over as the slot corner, a position at which he’s gotten a good number of snaps the past two seasons. And spending $3.2 million to tender Hilton at the second-round level just might not make sense.

That $3.2 million could be better spent elsewhere.

  • One thing that hasn’t been discussed enough with the Steelers is the fact they should take an offensive lineman capable of playing center in this draft.

That won’t happen early, mind you. This is a really bad draft for teams needing help at guard.

But if the Steelers release Foster, as expected, they’ll have two options. The first is to re-sign B.J. Finney and make him the starting left guard. The second would be to move right tackle Matt Feiler to left guard and allow Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner to battle for the right tackle spot.

Either way, the Steelers would still need a new backup center, a role Finney had the past few years.

If Finney is in the starting lineup at guard, the team would prefer not to have to move him if something happens to starting center Maurkice Pouncey. That’s making two changes because of one injury, something teams don’t like to do.

If Finney leaves as a free agent and Feiler kicks inside to guard, the Steelers still need a backup center.

So, either way, the team could use a center, especially since Pouncey is on the wrong side of 30.

  • The Pirates are halfway through their spring training. The clocks get moved ahead tonight.

There’s just something right in the world about that, even if the Pirates aren’t going to be contenders in 2020.

  • It’s OK to be upset with the fact the Pitt men’s basketball team lost its final seven regular-season games.

But the teeth gnashing is a bit unfounded. This was a team, after all, that went 0-18 in ACC play two years ago and 8-24 overall. The cupboard was bare.

This was not going to be a quick fix for coach Jeff Capel, especially considering he got a late start recruiting in his first season.

The Panthers went 6-14 in conference play this season and are 15-16 overall. That’s a step in the right direction. A small step, but a step nonetheless.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

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