The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: What are the odds of Steelers 2015 practice squad tight end Xavier Grimble making the 53-man roster in 2016?
The Steelers suffered a not entirely unexpected blow when 11-year veteran tight end Heath Miller chose to call it a career and retire early this offseason, which would certainly give one the impression that there would be added room for an unheralded tight end to make a difference, perhaps.
Fortunately for the team, however, Miller’s status was resolved soon enough, very early in the offseason, in fact, which provided the team not only with the resources, but the impetus, to heavily target a prized tight end free agent on the opening day of the new league year, inking Ladarius Green to a four-year, $20 million contract.
While they may not be identical players by any means, the shift from Miller to Green is still essentially a one-for-one swap as far as the roster goes. The aging Matt Spaeth, meanwhile, is indeed drawing down, and may even be in his last season—but he is still here, after all.
I don’t think it’s really any secret that if Xavier Grimble wishes to make the 53-man roster this season, then he will have a bit of a steep hill to climb ahead of him. There is also in front of him, of course, Jesse James, a second-year fifth-round draft pick who began to come into his own, and into playing time, during the second half of his rookie season.
It is true that the Steelers carried five tight ends and fullbacks on the roster last season, but I don’t expect that to be a repeat process barring unusual circumstances. Part of the reason for that was because of Miller’s aging status, of course, which is now resolved.
Another factor was fullback Roosevelt Nix forcing his way onto the roster, but now that he has established himself, the team is less likely to carry ‘insurance’ in case he doesn’t pan out, which is essentially what Will Johnson was, in addition to a core special teams player.
For Grimble to make the roster, he will have to fill Johnson’s shoes of 2015, which was primarily as a special teams player. And considering he has been unable to make a 53-man roster for two offseasons now in that capacity, I’m not sure I see that turning around. But another season on the practice squad could still be very much in the mix, particularly if the Steelers do not address tight end during the draft.