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: Will the Steelers repeat in their decision to carry four tight ends as they did last season?
The Pittsburgh Steelers have become accustomed to keeping four tight ends on their roster over the course of the past decade, and even with the insertion of a new, true fullback back into the fold last year, they continued to carry four.
That alone should be reason enough to believe that the Steelers might continue to do so this year, and with the signing of David Johnson, they have the personnel to justify carrying four tight ends, in addition to the acquisition of Ladarius Green and the continued employment of Matt Spaeth and Jesse James.
It would make all the more sense, indeed, that they might try to replace the now-retired Heath Miller by a committee approach, all the while preparing for the retirement of Spaeth, who will turn 33 this year and is in the final year of his contract.
But the reality suggests that that last roster spot will simply be needed somewhere else—as it always is—but specifically, somewhere that will get more use. Carrying four tight ends, plus Roosevelt Nix, for example, would make it difficult to carry a fourth tackle, after investing in the position in free agency and the draft, or a fifth safety, the bottom of that group being prime special teams contributors.
The fact that Johnson’s deal came without even a signing bonus, nor a roster bonus, means that he can be released at any point with no penalty whatsoever prior to the start of the regular season, so just because he was signed doesn’t mean he is guaranteed anything, even if even their bottom-tier free agents have a strong track record of making the roster.
The deciding factor may come down to special teams, and while Johnson may have played a bit more than he has in the past last year for the Chargers, the fact remains that he would never contribute in the same capacity as a player like Ross Ventrone. And you are already not expecting much on special teams from Green or Spaeth. Meanwhile, Nix is a core contributor. At the end of the day, a fourth tight end might prove to be a luxury that is best passed over.