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Is C Mason Cole Destined To Circle Back To Steelers’ Roster?

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With a little over three weeks to go until the 2024 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest hole on the roster is at the center position. They reportedly brought in veteran C Mitch Morse and made a strong push to acquire him in free agency, but he ended up signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Since then, the center market has thinned out considerably with Lloyd Cushenberry III, Aaron Brewer, Andre James, Tyler Biadasz, and others signing elsewhere. They need a stopgap solution, and experienced depth in case the drafted player isn’t ready right away or suffers an injury. That player could very well be C Mason Cole, who was released in late February.

Steelers GM Omar Khan told the media at the 2024 NFL Scouting Combine that they released players early in the process, including Cole, so they could get a head start on free agency to find their next job.

“Once we made the decision that they weren’t going to be part of the 2024 team, it just felt like the right thing to do was to give those guys the opportunity to hit the free agency market sooner than later,” Khan said.

Cole got that head start and still hasn’t signed with a team. At this point in free agency, his services would likely come pretty cheap, especially after a rough 2023 season.

By all accounts he was a good teammate to have around in the locker room. He was one of the more veteran players on the offensive side of the ball, and multiple players pointed to him as one of the leaders in the group that was sorely lacking leadership in 2023.

Prior to his release, Steelers insider Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette stated that the Steelers like Cole, but they like him more as a backup. If they can bring him back for cheap, knowing they are going to draft a center to eventually replace him in the lineup, then they should consider that option.

Even with the Steelers likely to target a center early in the draft, if they opt to address a more premium position in the first round—like offensive tackle—they could be in danger of missing out on a center that could conceivably start at some point in 2023. The general consensus is that there are three center options in the draft that could step in as an early starter. Those names are Duke OL Graham Barton, WVU C Zach Frazier, and Oregon C Jackson Powers-Johnson. Georgia C Sedrick Van Pran-Granger is also in the mix but would be less ideal given the urgency of the situation in Pittsburgh.

Bringing Cole back makes too much sense to write it off as an impossibility. He at least understands what OL coach Pat Meyer wants and has rapport with the rest of the offensive line. It would take at least a little bit of pressure off grabbing a center in the first round and allow for more flexibility, so the Steelers don’t have to reach or trade up in the second round if the options start to be taken off the board.

For what it’s worth, Dulac has been asked about a Cole-Steelers reunion in some of his recent Steelers chats, and said he is not expecting that to happen, but if not Cole, then who?

The other center options remaining in the free agency market either have significant injury concerns or very little starting center experience in the NFL.

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