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Chris Hubbard's rich, new contract illustrates how far the Steelers offensive line has come

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Chris Hubbard's rags to riches free agent story illustrates just how far the Steelers offensive line has come over the years.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

To the surprise of just about no one, Steelers utility offensive lineman Chris Hubbard inked a free agent deal with the Browns on Wednesday that will pay him $37.5 million over the next five seasons.

If you’re doing the math, that figure is respectably close to the five-year, $44 million extension multi-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey signed in 2014. It’s not even chump change compared to the five-year, $50 million extension two-time Pro Bowl right guard David DeCastro agreed to in 2016.

And, guess what, Hubbard’s new deal with Cleveland is more lucrative than the five-year, $30 million contract starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert signed in 2015.

It a way, that’s kind of ironic, because Gilbert is the former teammate Hubbard needs to thank the most for setting him up for life.

For a few years, Hubbard, a 2013 undrafted free agent out of UAB, was just a name you’d see on the depth chart. He spent his first season as a professional football player on Pittsburgh’s practice squad before making the team a year later.

However, it wasn’t until 2016, when he had to fill in for a few games at right tackle for an injured Gilbert that people began to see just how dependable Hubbard could be.

But 2017, while starting 10 games in place of Gilbert, who missed over half the season with injuries and a PED suspension, was the year it became apparent Hubbard belonged at the top of someone’s depth chart--if not Pittsburgh’s, then certainly someone else’s.

They say if you don’t notice an offensive lineman, that mean’s he’s doing his job.

If that is the case, Hubbard did one heck of a job in 2017, as very few people noticed the absence of Gilbert, a right tackle regarded by many as the top player at his position.

Kudos to Hubbard for developing his skills and taking advantage of an opportunity that coincided perfectly with becoming a free agent.

But much credit also goes to the Steelers for recognizing the need to improve the offensive line way back in 2010, when they started by selecting Pouncey in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Gilbert and DeCastro followed in subsequent drafts, with Ramon Foster, a 2009 UDFA out of Tennessee eventually ascending to the top of the depth chart as a very dependable left guard; and Alejandro Villanueva, an UDFA, who played tight end at Army and began his pro career trying to make it as a defensive lineman with the Eagles, ultimately being coached up into not only a starting left tackle, protecting the blindside of the organization’s biggest asset--quarterback Ben Roethlisberger--but a Pro Bowl left tackle following the 2017 campaign.

Speaking of coaching up, while you’re giving kudos, perhaps the biggest slap on the back goes to the front office for bringing in the very best offensive line coach in the business in 2014—Mike Munchak.

The respect the players and even the fans have for Munchak’s abilities cannot be understated.

Sure, naturals like Pouncey and DeCastro would do well under just about any offensive line coach. But it’s the Hubbards, Villanuevas and even the Gilberts of the world where a position coach can really develop a reputation as a guru.

Five years ago, Gilbert was the butt of jokes and regarded by some as a bust of a second round pick. Today, he’s known as the guy who spends 60 minutes each and every week toying with opposing pass-rushers as they vainly try to get to his quarterback.

Basically, Munchak’s reputation is well-deserved.

The Steelers offensive line is now so fruitful, very few people would lose sleep if the veteran Foster was cut and replaced as a starter by B.J. Finney, a 2015 UDFA out of Kansas State, who has more than adequately filled in not only at left guard in recent years, but even at center in place of that aforementioned Pro Bowler.

If I’m writing a similar rags to riches article about Finney in a year or two, well, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Things are going so well for the Steelers offensive line right now, I wouldn’t be shocked if players like Matt Feiler and Jerald Hawkins soon start developing into something besides names on the depth chart.

The Steelers offensive line is in a good place, and, again, that’s a credit to the Steelers.