We’re now into March, and that means that the new league year will be upon us shortly, and when that time comes, the floodgates to free agency will open—not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be major players when it comes to signing outside free agents, as they tend to keep themselves busy in retaining their own players.
But before we get to that period, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ offseason roster as it appears to be shaping up as we hit the start of the new league year, at which time the team will have a couple of dozen players hitting the open market.
As with every other team, the Steelers have already made some roster tweaks, signing several players to Reserve/Futures contracts, tenders, and other sorts of contract, while also making some deletions after they waived a handful of players, so here is a position-by-position look at how the team looks heading into free agency.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 4
Matt Spaeth: Following the retirement of Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth is technically, sort of, the Steelers’ top tight end, and certainly their most tenured, but his status as a number two tight end is pretty secure, meaning that he doesn’t figure to open as the team’s starter. Turning 33 and in the last year of his contract, this could be his last year.
Jesse James: Still just 21 years old after being drafted as a true junior out of Penn State in the fifth round a year ago, Jesse James figures to be in line to enter the 2016 as the ‘starter’ of sorts for the time being. He spent the first half of his rookie season inactive, but played close to 200 snaps from that point on, including essentially playing starter’s snaps in the game that Miller missed.
Will Johnson: Will Johnson has been kicking around for four years now, but his playing time took a hit last year after he was replaced as the starting fullback. He worked some as the number three tight end, but he gave that role away to James in the second half of the season. He will be a free agent.
Xavier Grimble: Once regarded as a pretty decent tight end prospect, Xavier Grimble declared early and went undrafted. He kicked around five rosters before he was signed to the Steelers’ practice squad after the final roster cuts were made. In fact, he wasn’t even their first choice for the practice squad. But he has drawn some buzz for himself, including showing some nice hands, and has been mentioned as a potential factor in 2016.
Heath Miller: Though privately not a shock, the news of Heath Miller’s retirement came as a surprise to those on the outside. The Steelers’ greatest tight end in club history, the 11-year veteran was instrumental to three Super Bowl runs and continue to be a workhorse and quality performer throughout the entirety of his career. There will be no one-for-one replacing him.
Offseason Strategy: The Steelers don’t appear to be overly motivated to address the tight end position in a major way, and I don’t believe there’s any pressing need to do so. They already have three tight ends who were on the roster last year, and Grimble could be a factor as well, as is the ability to employ personnel that takes the tight end off the field.
That doesn’t mean that they won’t sign a tight end in free agency that offers good value, or that they might draft one—even as early as the first round if the draft happens to break that way. It simply means that they won’t feel compelled to overreact to Miller’s retirement, realizing that there are other ways to replicate what he did than trying to replicate the player.