The Pittsburgh Steelers have two strange decisions to make at quarterback and tight end, and they aren’t too dissimilar.
At quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger has made us realize that he’s 35 years old, and is naturally starting to think about life after football. There is a sense that the search to find heir to Roethlisberger is about to start – even if there is no obvious way to find the next quarterback. Fortunately, Roethlisberger should be back for next year at least.
At tight end, there are similar question marks. Big free agent signing Ladarius Green should be back next season, so to go find his replacement may be premature. But there is more to it than that. Green is still young, and shouldn’t be near the end of his career. But his concussion history changes things.
We don’t know if Green will be able to recover from his fourth concussion in the pro game, or if he does, whether he’ll his career will be able to survive the next one.
As a rugby fan, I’ve had a different exposure to the concussion. Rugby is a sport that prides itself on big collisions between huge men that don’t wear pads. Unfortunately, it means that concussions are a common occurrence. Rugby is changing its laws in attempt to reduce the risk – by cracking down on tackles above the shoulder, and implementing in-game concussion tests.
From the moment former England international Shontayne Hape described the horror of trying to live after a career cut short through multiple concussions, the watching public has taken the subject a lot more seriously. Hape described an incident that lead to what he guessed was close to his fifth concussion in a year “One of the boys just ran a decoy line and bumped into me and I was knocked out. When you are getting knocked out and no one is even touching your head you realize things have got pretty bad.”
Those at the biggest risk of concussion are players who have been concussed most recently, and most often. It’s led to players who are diagnosed with four concussions in a 12-month period to take a mandatory three-month break.
This is why Green’s case needs to be taken with more seriousness. Green took two big hits against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15 and after there was some hope initially that he’d play again after being a full participant in practice prior to a playoff game, symptoms remained and he ultimately wouldn’t play another snap the remainder of the season.
It’s perhaps not surprising then that various draftniks have since mocked tight ends to the Steelers in early rounds. Unlike at quarterback, this tight end class is deep on the surface.
There will be options for the Steelers in almost every round this year, and every one of them would be an asset to pair with Jesse James, and even Green if he can make it back. Whether the likes of O.J. Howard or David Njoku in the first round, or Bucky Hodges, Evan Engram, or Jake Butt on day two, or even Michael Roberts, Jonnu Smith, Pharaoh Brown, or Eric Saubert in the later rounds.
The Steelers need to come out of April’s draft with a tight end as we might never know when another class at that position will be as bountiful as this one looks to be. With question marks surrounding the Steelers tight end depth – this draft is a perfectly timed one for Pittsburgh.