Player: Ben Tate
Position: Running Back
Experience: 5 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $0
2014 Season Breakdown: There wasn’t much of a season to break down for Ben Tate, at least when it came to playing in the black and gold for the Steelers. Of course, Pittsburgh only signed Tate in the wake of the regular season finale after starting running back Le’Veon Bell was forced to exit the game when he suffered a hyperextended knee getting tackled upon completing a catch.
The Steelers ruled out Bell for the Wildcard game the following week, and they brought in Tate for a role that was yet to be determined. As it turned out, despite the fact that he wasn’t named with the starters at the beginning of the game, he was the first running back on the field for the offense.
The Steelers only had two other running back options on the roster, both rookies with extremely limited experience, and in the setting of a playoff atmosphere, head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go with experience over naivety to begin the game.
Tate got the first handoff and received a short pass on second down. Later in the drive, he broke off an eight-yard run up the middle—which if I recall correctly was the team’s longest carry of the day—only to lose the ball as it mercifully tumbled forward for wide receiver Antonio Brown to safely scoop up, retaining possession.
Tate was quickly sent to the sideline, replaced by Josh Harris, who received the majority of the few remaining rushes the Steelers called in the game. Midway through the fourth quarter, Tate blew a blocking assignment that allowed Ben Roethlisberger to be pressured on a key third down.
Roethlisberger attempted to elude pressure, and then threw the ball to Tate, who allowed the pass to bounce off his hands, intercepted by the Ravens, who scored a touchdown from 21 yards out on the following play.
Granted, Tate was only a part of the Steelers organization for a few days prior to this game, and no doubt that resulted in plenty of chaos and confusion at times, even though his role in the game was fairly limited.
But considering the fact that the Steelers were his third team during the course of the 2014 season, that suggests to me that there are larger issues, either with his game, his attitude, or perhaps both.
Free Agency Outlook: The Steelers figure to be in the market for a somewhat experienced, veteran running back this offseason to pair with Bell after failing to do so successfully for the last two years, but it doesn’t appear likely to be Tate.
Realistically, by the time the regular season is over, the free agent market is pretty thin, and Tate was perhaps the best available option, though some might argue that the Steelers should have just stuck with Harris, or perhaps even gave Will Johnson some more work. I wouldn’t anticipate that Tate will be re-signed by the Steelers, though he will likely find work elsewhere.