Even though the move may not prove to be very significant in the grand scheme of things, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ efforts to provide depth at the running back position was a smart one that came at minimal cost, and no foreseeable downside.
The Steelers, of course, added free agent running back Ben Tate yesterday in preparation for being without starting running back Le’Veon Bell on Saturday night when Pittsburgh hosts the Baltimore Ravens in the Wildcard matchup.
In order to make room for him on the roster, the Steelers chose to release wide receiver Justin Brown, who served an active role in the offense for the first six games of the season, but completely fell off the map once rookie receiver Martavis Bryant was activated.
The second-year receiver was featured frequently in key positions with the first-team offense throughout the duration of the offseason, to the point where it was seemingly a given that he would make the roster. He did, indeed, make the roster after the Steelers elected to keep six wide receivers on the 53.
In fact, he featured prominently early on, logging significant snaps in the slot between Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton, even if his biggest contribution turned out to be a lost fumble on the opening drive of the first game between the Steelers and the Ravens that set the negative tone of what would turn out to be a blowout.
Brown spent eight of the last 10 games of the season inactive, only seeing a helmet when there were so many injuries that he had to get one, more or less. He quickly fell out of the rotation and became dead weight, so his release is certainly no loss, given that he didn’t contribute on special teams.
Toward the beginning of the season, it seemed like a good idea for the Steelers to carry six wide receivers, and perhaps it was, given the many unknowns about some of the young receivers on the roster and the turnover on the top of the depth chart from the year before.
And perhaps it was a good idea, in the beginning of the season, and Brown did an okay job early on while Lance Moore was injured. But the Steelers have now established a clear hierarchy with Bryant and Wheaton splitting time behind Brown.
It hasn’t even been easy for the Steelers to find snaps for Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey, especially given the fact that they have a star running back and tight end who both feature prominently in the passing game.
With Bell likely out and behind him just a pair of rookie running backs with minimal experience and playing time, it was a no-brainer to add a running back who at least had some experience, even if much of that recent experience has been disappointing. Tate is an insurance policy that the Steelers could actually cash in, rather than just having Justin Brown rot away on the bench.