The Pittsburgh Steelers have some question marks at the center position for the 2021 season. Currently on the roster they have a third-round draft pick in Kendrick Green, a player who filled in some last year but struggled in J.C. Hassenauer, and a returning veteran from the 2019 team in B.J. Finney.
Although Kendrick Green winning the job would likely put the Steelers in the best scenario, counting on him being ready for Week 1 as a rookie is it something the Steelers will likely not force. If it so happens to work out that way it’s fantastic, but if Green needs a little more time, it looks to be either Finney or Hassenauer snapping the ball Week 1 in Buffalo.
While Green is a question mark due to being new to the NFL, and Hassenauer is as well based on his play in 2020, Finney may be the biggest question mark of them all. The Steelers knew what they had in Finney following the 2019 season as he departed for the Seattle Seahawks. But the B.J. Finney that returns to the Steelers for 2021 may or may not be the same player.
So are the Steelers getting the B.J. Finney who spent five years in Pittsburgh, or are they getting the player who did not play an offense of snap for either says Seattle Seahawks or Cincinnati Bengals last season?
As you may recall, Finney is not the first member of the Steelers to spend a season away only to return.
After playing his first four seasons in Pittsburgh, cornerback Bryant McFadden departed the Steel City for the Arizona Cardinals in 2009. During his absence, McFadden went from a player who hadn’t started more than nine games in a season in Pittsburgh to starting 16 games in Arizona. McFadden nearly doubled his passes defensed from 2008 but failed to secure an interception for the first season in his career. After being traded back to Pittsburgh for 2010, McFadden once again started every game for the second straight season and had two interceptions, 10 passes defensed, and added two forced fumbles and 2.0 sacks. McFadden also had a career high 81 tackles coming back to Pittsburgh. McFadden doesn’t really fit the same scenario as he thrived in his year away and returned as an even stronger player.
McFadden wasn’t the only player to spend a single season away from the Steelers in 2009 as linebacker Larry Foote departed Pittsburgh after seven seasons with the Steelers and headed to Detroit. Starting every game the previous four years before leaving town, Foote did not have a large drop off in production with the Lions even though he only appeared in 14 games. After his season away, Foote returned to the Steelers in a reserve role in 2010 where he played all 16 games but did not have a single start and saw a major decline in his stats.
Cornerback William Gay also spent a year away from Pittsburgh after five seasons to start his career with the Steelers. Spending the 2012 season in Arizona, Gay saw pretty much the same production he did with the Steelers before returning back to Pittsburgh. It was during his second stint with the Steelers where he had five interceptions returned for a touchdown over a three-year span.
Another player Steelers fans are not going to be quick to forget was outside linebacker James Harrison who spent the 2013 season with the Cincinnati Bengals. Seeing his production, as well as his snaps, cut significantly in Cincinnati, Harrison returned several games into the 2014 season and got back on track to many of his previous marks.
While this trip down memory lane has showed a number of former players who spent a season away from Pittsburgh and returned with similar production in most cases, none of them saw the drop off in play like Finney did in 2020. Not even getting on the field for a single offensive snap with two teams who struggled along their offensive line is not something to write home about. But recent history also shows players have returned to Pittsburgh after a year and picked up where they left off.
I’m not sure why there’s such confidence along some fans that B.J. Finney will return to his 2019 form, even though some find that amount of production to not be overly beneficial. The bottom line is, Finney should not be the long-term answer for the Steelers at center as he never was before leaving town in 2020. The Steelers proved this by investing a Day 2 draft pick at the position, which was the first center drafted by Pittsburgh in 11 years. While Kendrick Green may or may not be NFL ready come Week 1, hopefully B.J. Finney can at least hold the Steelers offensive line somewhat together if called upon.