The Optimist’s Take: Sidelined Tight End Signing

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 optimist’s take on the following question.

Question: Will the recovery time of tight end Ladarius Green be an impediment to his ability to succeed in the offense this year?

The Pittsburgh Steelers made a rare free agent ‘splash’ this past offseason when they signed Chargers tight end Ladarius Green to a four-year contract worth $20 million. Of course, that signing was partially enabled by the retirement of veteran tight end Heath Miller, a move that cleared up additional cap space.

But Green is now tasked with replacing Miller not just on the books, but on the field as well, and for now, he will only be able to do that observing on the sidelines, as he is still evidently recovering from offseason surgery on his ankle, an injury that limited him during the second half of last season.

Green suffered the ankle injury in Week Eight last year, causing him to miss the following game, and he only caught 10 passes in the ensuing six games before being placed on injured reserve. The surgery was necessary, however, and will assure that he will be able to contribute at a high level next season.

While he has not been able to throw him the ball running routes yet, Ben Roethlisberger has talked about how he has been in Green’s ear already, going over some details. He is far from isolated from the team right now just because of his recovery—in fact, he has even been assisting in running the tight end drills. He is very much involved with every aspect of the team short of going through the drills right now.

Green is engaged and motivated, having the opportunity to step into a role that he has not yet had before, at least not for a long duration. He spent his career behind Antonio Gates. Now he is tasked with replacing Miller, not competing with him for playing time.

Nor will he try to emulate him on the field. The Chargers primarily used Green as a wide receiver in passing situations last year. He is a route runner who already has a good understanding of his craft. There will be plenty of time to develop a rapport with Roethlisberger during training camp and the preseason.

The Steelers were well aware of Green’s injury, surgery, and recovery timeline when they signed him promptly at the beginning of the free agency period. If they weren’t comfortable with what they were told, they likely would have taken a more cautious approach.

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