Approaching Free Agency, Tight End Depth A Question

You know about the holes at cornerback, inside linebacker, and should Antonio Brown get dealt, wide receiver. Based on what happens over the next month, tight end could become an underrated position of need.

Vance McDonald is staying. Any speculation he’ll be a cap causality – I know it’s been floated by some bored writers – is utterly bogus. Everything behind him though is murky. Jesse James is set to be a free agent. Trusted and dependable, the odds are probably in favor of him staying, but it’d be tough to begrudge him for exploring his options on the market. In Pittsburgh, he’s never going to be viewed as a clear cut #1, unless it’s out of necessity, and if tight end needy team comes calling, who knows what’ll happen.

Beyond that, Xavier Grimble is set to be a restricted free agent but it’s all but guaranteed he won’t be tendered, even the original round designation far too expensive for the lack of production and value he currently has. Grimble could be re-signed on an inexpensive, one-year deal, but at this point in his career, his roster spot shouldn’t be a lock. Potential has always been his calling card, a player who looks the part and made just enough plays to justify his helmet, but patience has to be wearing thin. 22 receptions in three years is wholly replaceable.

The rest of the group are made up of even bigger unknowns. Bucky Hodges, who brings a little bit of intrigue as a camp add in 2018 but has yet to appear in an NFL game. Jake McGeee, who showed promise as a blocker two preseason ago but blew out his Achilles last spring, one of the worst injuries a player can suffer, and a total dart throw for where he’ll be at when minicamp starts up. Christian Scotland-Williamson, who looked every bit of a man playing football for the first time, and held onto the roster only because of the league’s international exception. And Kevin Rader, signed to a futures contract who will probably be in my “struggles on the blocking sled” section of camp notes this July.

And that depth is crucial. Even though Pittsburgh is a base 11 personnel defense, they like to mix up personnel packages and bring in multiple tight ends. McDonald stayed healthy last year but there’s no guarantee that fortunate luck will continue.

The Steelers need to have a solid Plan B. Hopefully that’s James but even if he returns, the position should still be looked at with an on-the-cheap free agent or Day Three draft pick, adding competition to the room.

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