It was announced yesterday evening that the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to apply a restricted free agent tender on former college free agent tight end Xavier Grimble as he heads into his fourth season in the NFL. This would represent a substantial pay increase for him to the tune of $2.025 million, which is the value of the original-round tender.
Considering his relatively sparse usage as the Steelers’ number three tight end, this was a curious decision, one that they chose not to make for former inside linebacker Terence Garvin a couple of years ago when he was a restricted free agent, even though he, at the least, was a staple on special teams.
One has to wonder if the decision to prevent Grimble from testing the market says something about their comfort level in being able to retain number two tight end Jesse James, who is scheduled to become a free agent following the completion of his four-year rookie contract.
James is coming off his best and most complete season, even while Vance McDonald managed to play and start 15 games without serious injuries derailing him. While the Penn State alumnus said that he may be biased in free agency in desiring the remain in Pittsburgh, he also acknowledged that he would test the market.
We are now just a handful of days away from the opening of the ‘legal tampering’ period, in which free agents have three days prior to the official start of free agency in which they are permitted to talk to teams and work out contract details in principle, which they can then agree to an sign at 4 PM EST on the 13th.
Because of a relatively week free agency class, James is actually one of the very top names on the market, though the New England Patriots’ recent release of Dwayne Allen did put another relatively big name out there. Allen already has a meeting scheduled with the Baltimore Ravens, who just drafted two tight ends high last year but also have Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle hitting the open market.
James made nearly $2 million last season thanks to the proven performance escalator. He may well be able to earn a multi-year contract that pays him a few million on the open market next week. So the question is, can Grimble be an option as the number two tight end?
Athletically, there certainly isn’t a dropoff from James to Grimble. While the athleticism of the latter has been overstated by some in the past, he is better equipped to get downfield, make a tackler miss, or crash through a defender—provided that he protects the ball.
Though James is coming off his best season as a blocker, Grimble also prides himself in his blocking, and the Steelers have even used him in a specialized package in select running situations over both James and McDonald.