It’s not often that the Pittsburgh Steelers carry four true tight ends on the 53-man roster. In fact, the only time that I can recall it occurring, it was merely procedural and lasted a couple days during the start of the 2013 season, because Matt Spaeth had to be on the 53-man roster in order to be eligible to be placed on the designated to return list.
I have argued earlier this offseason, however, in favor of the idea of at least exploring the idea of carrying four true tight ends, or a variety of factors, the primary of which being that they do appear to have a decent group of tight ends to choose from this season.
Beyond that, I do believe that the ages of Heath Miller and Spaeth are to be taken into consideration, and by carrying four tight ends, it provides a bit more insulation in the case of injury. And the truth is that Spaeth has had some injury issues since returning to the Steelers two seasons ago.
But this is unlikely to happen for a number of reasons, the primary being, of course, the fact that Will Johnson is essentially being used more and more as a tight end as his career progresses, much as David Johnson did in spite of lacking ideal height for the task.
Beyond simply the lack of need for a fourth tight end, however, with the Steelers utilizing three wide receivers in their base set, there is yet another argument against carrying a fourth tight end, and that is that Todd Haley continued to show even late last season that he still believes in the tackle eligible, which is a role that Mike Adams has filled on and off over the course of the past two years.
Despite the fact that many have widely panned Adams over the course of his career for being a disappointment—and there is no disputing that he has been a disappointment—the coaching staff does still believe in him.
And for those who argue that Alejandro Villanueva will take his place—which is not necessary, as both could easily make the roster—it’s worth remembering that Villanueva has also played tight end, and even wide receiver in his high school and college career, meaning that the tackle eligible possibility would remain alive and well.
There is but one possible avenue for a fourth tight end to make the 53-man roster, and quite frankly I can’t recall the last time it’s happened with the Steelers. That fourth tight end would have to be an absolute special teams standout in order to justify carrying him over an extra player at another position.
There are some valid arguments to keeping a fourth tight end, which I have proposed myself, for this particular group. Among those is the possible risk of losing out on two of three intriguing young tight ends that fail to make the roster, although this assumption is predicated on them all panning out. But history, practicality, and the tackle eligible strongly suggest that it will not happen.
At least not this year. Perhaps in 2016, when both Miller and Spaeth are in the final years of their contracts.