Entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2021, Steelers offensive lineman Chukwuma Okorafor will look to maximize his value as he approaches free agency next offseason.
But when asked about his approach to Year 4 during a Thursday video conference call, Okorafor said he’s not too concerned about his contract standing.
“I mean, honestly, I have one job, and it is to play, whether it’s my second year or my last year on my deal,” Okorafor said, per TribLive.com “I don’t really focus on that (contract) yet. I still have — what? — six, seven, eight months until I have to look at it.”
Impending contract negotiations aside, Okorafor has another big change coming up this season. With longtime Pittsburgh left tackle Alejandro Villanueva signing a two-year deal with the Ravens this offseason, Okorafor will shift from the right tackle position to fill this voided role.
He had experience at both positions during his collegiate years with Western Michigan.
“Honestly, I’m just going to do whatever I am told,” Okorafor said. “Whether it’s left tackle, whether it’s right tackle, I have done both, so it doesn’t really matter that much to me. I won’t be working any more or less (pending) that.”
With this move across the line, Zach Banner will reclaim his starting right tackle position. Okorafor started the final fifteen games of the season at RT after Banner tore his ACL in the 2020 opener.
Continuing with his even-keeled attitude, Okorafor explained his level of comfort shifting over to the left tackle position.
“I feel like there isn’t any more pressure,” Okorafor said. “If it’s playing left tackle, left guard or center, it’s still having to block for [Ben Roethlisberger] and block for … whoever’s running the ball. If it’s left side, right side, center, it doesn’t matter to me. It’s moreso about having sure whoever is playing, it’s just having to block well.”
Okorafor’s shift certainly isn’t the only change on the Steelers’ front line in 2021. In addition to Villanueva’s departure in free agency, veteran center Maurkice Pouncey announced his retirement earlier this offseason. With three new starters up front, ProFootballFocus ranks the Pittsburgh line as No. 29 in the NFL.
Unless Okarafor and the rest of this young unit can quickly develop, this Steelers’ front will be a far cry from the elite offensive lines we’ve come to expect from the franchise.