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Marcus Gilbert was a luxury the Steelers couldn’t afford

Marcus Gilbert was too expensive and injured far too often to remain with the Steelers in 2019.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Houston Texans Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

What happens when you are part of a unit that has developed a reputation for turning undrafted free agents into millionaires? You get traded if you are too expensive and injured far too often.

Such was the case for Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert, who was shipped off to the Cardinals on Friday in exchange for a sixth round pick.

The handwriting was on the wall for Gilbert, who earned roughly $8 million over the past two seasons while playing in a grand-total of 12 games due to either injury or suspension for performance enhancing drugs. Truth be told, Gilbert and his base salary of $4.8 million according to spotrac may have been safe in 2019 if not for the ability of his old boss, offensive line guru Mike Munchak, to mold project offensive linemen into fine professionals—even, as I alluded to already, millionaires.

One such millionaire is Chris Hubbard, an undrafted free agent out of UAB in 2013, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million contract with the Browns last spring after starting 10 games for an injured and/or suspended Gilbert in 2017.

Another undrafted free agent of promise—and one who may some day join Hubbard in the millionaire offensive linemen club—is Matt Feiler, who started 10 games at right tackle in Gilbert’s place a season ago. Honestly, the Steelers are probably hoping Chukwuma Okorafor, last year’s third-round pick out of Western Michigan, will take that all-important first-to-second year leap and ascend to the top of the depth chart at right tackle. But even if Chuks needs more seasoning, is anyone feeling all that nervous about Feiler picking up where he left off in 2018 and becoming the next great underdog offensive lineman story for the Steelers?

Maybe Feiler will. Maybe he won’t. The same holds true for Okorafor, this despite his greater potential and much higher draft pedigree. But there’s been more than enough evidence in recent years to suggest Pittsburgh made the right move by parting with Gilbert.

Is it unfortunate? Sure. It wasn’t long ago that Gilbert had honed and perfected his skills so much, he was regarded by many as the best right tackle in the NFL, a man who rarely let his opponent sack the very valuable Ben Roethlisberger.

Gilbert, who seemed to struggle a bit with desire and commitment after being selected in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, exemplified what someone like Munchak could really do if you gave him a prospect with enormous potential, and that prospect “got it.”

Gilbert got it and certainly could have been a fixture on the right side of the Steelers offensive line for many more years to come—much like the very underrated and underappreciated John Jackson was at left tackle in the 1990s.

Sadly, however, being great in sports isn’t just about talent and/or commitment. Many talented players have fallen victim to the injury bug over the years—as the old saying goes, you can’t make the club in the tub.

And in Gilbert’s case, you can’t remain on the club, especially when you’re due to make nearly $5 million.

All the best to Marcus Gilbert. He’s a talented offensive lineman, but just too expensive to be injured so often.

And that was especially the case with a much cheaper alternative(s) waiting in the wings to take his place permanently.