The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: A tight end who is not on the roster right now will be on the team for the season opener.
Explanation: So far, the Steelers’ plans for reshuffling the tight end room haven’t exactly gone swimmingly. While Vance McDonald has been relatively preserved, Xavier Grimble hasn’t done a lot to distinguish himself, and already has an easy drop on his tape. Meanwhile, the top two candidates vying for that third tight end role, Zach Gentry and Christian Scotland-Williamson, have been out with injuries. Both are very inexperienced with respect to the NFL level and to the tight end position itself.
There is usually at least one player from outside of the 90-man roster that ends up being on it by the time we get to the season opener. Last year, it was Ryan Switzer. McDonald was one the year before that. then Justin Gilbert. Then Josh Scobee. Then Brandon Boykin. For some reason it’s not listed on the Steelers’ transactions page for 2013, but they traded for Felix Jones that year.
In other words, the odds heavily favor the idea that somebody not currently on the 90-man roster will be on the 53-man roster. And there’s no better candidate position with which to fill that void than at the tight end position. When the Steelers talked about the group being below the line in 2017, they went out and made the trade for McDonald.
That was at a time in which they were looking at a very anemic group without a starter, however. You have to remember, they were prepared to go into 2017 with Jesse James as their starter and Grimble as their number two, with David Johnson the one who was ultimately bumped out.
This year, they have their star player at the position, the nucleus, in McDonald. They like Grimble more than a lot of other people do, especially as a blocker, which more often than not has been the number two tight end’s primary role.
Just think back to 2015, James’ rookie year. He spent half the season inactive. The Steelers will be in more four- and five-receiver sets than two-tight-end sets this year. And they have the tackle-eligible for the blocking roles. Grimble already played in a lot of two-tight end sets, so that doesn’t change.
More importantly, if they bring in another tight end, it would most likely mean carrying four and giving Gentry a redshirt year, which would mean they would have to sacrifice a player at another position, something they don’t want to do. As long as Gentry gets back quick and is relatively up to speed, your tight ends are already on the roster. And just because they’ve made a number of trades in the past doesn’t mean they will do so again, or at this specific position.