If you are like me, you remember when the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Marcus Gilbert in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He was drafted to be the next left tackle of the proud franchise, but after several failed attempts the team decided to move him to right tackle.
What happened after the switch was a smooth transition and an evolution into a dominant right tackle in the NFL. At one point, Gilbert was the rock on the right side of the line, but after injuries and a suspension derailed his career, the Steelers decided to forego his final year of his contract and traded him to the Arizona Cardinals for a 6th round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
Dealing with this fact wasn’t easy for Gilbert to stomach.
“I felt like I disappointed a lot of people in Steeler Nation,” Gilbert, told Jeremy Fowler of ESPN in an interview shortly after the trade. “It hasn’t been easy.”
What went from a promising career, which should have started and ended in Pittsburgh, turned into a nightmare when Gilbert injured his quadriceps in a freak injury at practice last year.
This per Fowler:
But a partially torn quad injury started an avalanche of emotions in early 2018. Gilbert said a “total freak accident” happened during a routine move in practice sometime around the Week 7 bye. Steelers trainers thought Gilbert had tendinitis until an MRI revealed more, he said.
Surgery would have shut him down for the year, so he opted for a stem cell shot to trim recovery time.
Throughout this recovery process, Gilbert talked about everything from the isolation of not playing, to the social media vitriol being sent his way from a fan base which had become fed up with Gilbert being in street clothes more than his game uniform.
“When you go from playing at a high level, then you’re not out there on the field, and you’re getting a lot from the fans, the coaches and teammates can’t rely on you because you’re not out there -- all those things mount, and it’s tough,” said Gilbert. “Nasty tweets, lots of questions, and you read the articles. Athletes can say that doesn’t bother them, but you see it.”
To cope with this, Gilbert turned to therapy. He went to weekly counseling sessions to help him realize the business side of the NFL, and how the decisions made, like being placed on Injured Reserve in 2018, weren’t personal. Just part of a business.
“You can never be surprised with NFL business,” he said. “They respect me, but you have to understand it’s a business. I didn’t take it personally.”
The Steelers turn the page at right tackle with a trio of players vying for the 2019 vacancy. Matt Feiler, Chukwuma Okorafor and Jerald Hawkins will all put their name in the hat for the starting role, all while Gilbert hopes to land on his feet in Arizona with former Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler.
“Once I get on the field, I’ll have my play speak for itself,” Gilbert said. “I feel like I have a lot of time left. I want to take on more of a leadership role.”
Steelers fans wish Gilbert well out in the desert, and there will be a reunion between the two parties when Pittsburgh travels out west to Arizona in Week 14, but in the meantime the hope is the Steelers made the right call to let Gilbert walk and go with cheaper, and younger, options at the position.