When 11-year veteran tight end Heath Miller elected to retire this offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers without doubt lost a major component of not simply their offense, but their team dynamic. But the business of football goes on no matter the cast, and the front office moved quickly to find a new cast member in former Chargers tight end Ladarius Green.
The Steelers inked the 25-year-old to a four-year contract worth $20 million for the life of the deal—a deal that, if you take the word of Pro Football Focus with any sort of sincerity, represents perhaps one of the best value contracts of this free agency period.
The site recently published a list of what they regard as the five most high-value free agent signings, relative to their ability to contribute to the team versus what they were given in compensation. Green, the Steelers’ newest tight end, landed third on that list.
A former fourth-round draft pick, the 6’6” tight end has spent most of his career playing in the shadow of future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates, with whom the Chargers chose to re-sign rather than opting for the much young up and coming Green—must to Pittsburgh’s benefit, or so it would seem.
Of the new Steelers tight end, the site writes, “he has shown the ability to step up in Gates’ absence (whether suspension or injury), as evidenced by his highest-graded game of 2015—Week 4 versus the Cleveland Browns”.
The Steelers happened to play the Chargers, but it also happened to be the first game with Gates returning from a four-game suspension, and a game in which the former All-Pro featured prominently, catching two touchdowns.
PFF also describes the signing as “even more important now” in light of the subsequent news that wide receiver Martavis Bryant would be suspended for the duration of the 2016 season, an aspect of the signing that I highlighted on the day of the receiver’s suspension.
Citing Bryant’s absence, and his explosive vertical ability going along with it, the site suggests that we “expect Green to be busy in the middle of the field and in red-zone situations all year”. That certainly is a reasonable expectation considering the salary the Steelers chose to pay an outside free agent, which is a rarity to say the least.
It remains to be seen just what sort of value Green will be able to bring to the Steelers, or as a full-season primary contributor, simply because this is something that we have yet to see, but there is good reason to be encouraged by prior samples, and excited about future possibilities.
That PFF recognizes his contract as one of the better value signings—even at $5 million per season, which is a lot for the Steelers—is simply further validation, rather than confirmation, to be confident in Green’s ability to be a highly successful contributor to the team, this season and beyond.