When a team loses an important player due to retirement or some other means, the natural reaction is to either replace him with a one-for-one high-impact free agent signing or premium draft pick, if feasible. These routes are often anything but, so the opposite approach is often seen, the buckshot, loading up at the position and hoping to find enough pieces to get by.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have tried to walk the fine line between the two in replacing tight end Heath Miller, signing Ladarius Green in free agency, but also adding David Johnson and looking to practice squad tight end Xavier Grimble as potential options.
The Baltimore Ravens actually took that approach when trying to find a replacement for Dennis Pitta, drafting both Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle last year, but now they are facing a friendly dilemma as Pitta appears set to try to come back from career-threatening injuries that have basically sidelined him for two years.
Along with Williams and Pitta, the Ravens also signed veteran free agent Benjamin Watson, who is still a quality player and, in fact, their union rep. They also have Crockett Gillmore, a third-year player who was their primary starter at the position last year until he got injured.
They have, right there, five tight ends who have been on and can make the roster, and there are those who believe that the Ravens and tight end-friendly offensive coordinator Marc Trestman might well do that. But Boyle won’t be a part of that initial equation, as he is set to serve a 10-game suspension.
That leaves the door open for yet another tight end by the name of Darren Waller, a second-year player who was drafted as a wide receiver, and was on the roster last year as a wide receiver, but at 6’6” and 245 pounds, has been converted to tight end—which was already a consideration when he was drafted—and his roster odds are legitimate.
“The Ravens don’t normally keep four tight ends, never mind five”, writes Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun, “but it would be foolish to dismiss Waller’s roster chances. The Ravens build the back end of their roster with special teams in mind and Waller shined on special teams last year”.
The unwritten rules behind the roster numbers game always changes when you throw special teams into the equation. When you have a player who is an important piece to your special teams unit, you have to make an exception and carry an extra player at a position that you normally would not. Besides, as a sort of hybrid player, Waller could also function as a wide receiver, saving a spot at another position.
The Steelers are currently wrestling with the possibility of keeping four tight ends once again, as they did last year, and now, meanwhile, the Ravens are potentially considering carrying five, even without the consideration of Boyle. Players like Watson, Pitta, and Williams have the potential to put up numbers in the receiving game, and they kind of lack at wide receiver, so it might actually be practical.