Player: Matt Spaeth
Position: Tight End
Experience: 8 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $1,037,500
2014 Season Breakdown: In truth, it probably took Matt Spaeth a few seasons to grow into the role that he would eventually serve. It was only truly during the 2010 season during which he began to become a significant, impactful second tight end blocking in the running game as the Steelers advanced to the Super Bowl that season.
The team didn’t place much value on re-signing him, however, believing that they could get by with what they had, and thus the Bears signed him away instead. He was released after two seasons, however, and after realizing that they had never been able to properly replace him in the lineup, Pittsburgh was quick to re-sign him in 2013 to a two-year contract.
Unfortunately, Spaeth suffered a foot injury that first season and ended up missing the first three quarters of the year. When he returned for the final stretch of the season, the Steelers ran the ball the best they had all year.
When they gave him a healthy number of snaps in 2014, he was also a major contributor in leading to Le’Veon Bell’s breakout season in his second year. He was particularly important late in the season during Bell’s three-game stretch of gaining over 200 yards from scrimmage per game, playing prominent roles in the first and third games.
The Steelers really don’t fool around much in the way in which they use Spaeth. The vast majority of his snaps come on running plays. While he has some receiving ability, he is primarily a run-blocking tight end, though perhaps one could argue that the offense doesn’t take advantage of his 6’7”, 260-pound frame enough in the receiving game.
In his two seasons back with the Steelers, he has caught four passes, two of which have gone for touchdowns, totaling 57 yards. He has only caught double-digit receptions once in his career, and that was in 2008. He started two games in place of Heath Miller and caught 12 passes for 108 yards, if memory serves.
Free Agency Outlook: Could there be a market for Spaeth around the league to serve somewhere as a second tight end? Certainly, and it’s happened before. But why would Spaeth want to leave again? And why would the Steelers want him to?
The fact of the matter is that Miller isn’t getting any younger, and could be in his last season. There’s not much in the pipeline behind him. There’s the journeyman Michael Palmer, and last year’s seventh-round draft pick, Rob Blanchflower, who spent his rookie season on the practice squad.
I believe that the Steelers have a better appreciation for Spaeth’s contributions now than they did back in 2011. I also believe that Spaeth has become an even better player since then. He’s an important facet of the Steelers’ run game, and I expect the two parties to have little problem working out a deal.