The Steelers' biggest question mark of 2021 got bigger on Thursday, with the team abruptly announcing the release of six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro. Pittsburgh had already been set to open the new year, which could be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's last, with three new starters on the offensive line following the departures of Alejandro Villanueva, Maurkice Pouncey and Matt Feiler. Now, a week after hosting free agent guard Trai Turner on a visit, the Steelers have said goodbye to their most accomplished remaining blocker. Pittsburgh signed Turner to a one-year deal following DeCastro's release, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
The 31-year-old DeCastro had recently been having his ankle evaluated for an injury, according to NFL Network's Mike Garafolo, and has "had issues with it for quite some time," even undergoing surgery for the ailment prior to the 2020 season. A first-round pick of the Steelers back in 2012, the lineman attended but didn't participate in Pittsburgh's mandatory minicamp earlier this month. In the wake of his release, per Garafolo, he's "evaluating his future," with others speculating retirement could be on the horizon. The Athletic's Ed Bouchette notes DeCastro also battled an abdominal injury last summer, perhaps all the way into the season.
"I have to get surgery on my ankle a third time," DeCastro told Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette later on Thursday. "I tried to fix it last year but the bone spurs kept coming back. It nagged me pretty bad all last year."
As for retirement rumors, DeCastro told Starkey he's "gotta see how the surgery goes" but would have "no problem calling it a day and moving on with my life."
The NFL's official transaction reports indicates DeCastro was cut with a non-football injury (NFI) designation. The move, which saves Pittsburgh $8.75 million this year, suggests the guard suffered an injury away from team facilities.
When healthy, however, DeCastro had long been one of the Steelers' top linemen, as well as one of the NFL's best interior blockers. He made his sixth straight Pro Bowl in 2020 and started 124 games for Pittsburgh over nine seasons, also earning three All-Pro nods.
With DeCastro gone, the Steelers are left with only returning starter up front: Fourth-year man Chukwuma Okorafor, who is slated to move from right tackle to left tackle to replace Villanueva. Kevin Dotson, Kendrick Green, Aviante Collins and Zach Banner are among those set to step into starting roles this year. Turner, who made five Pro Bowls with the Panthers from 2015-2019 before one season with the Chargers, could also serve as insurance after visiting the Steelers.