Player: Nick Vannett
Position: Tight End
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2019 Salary Cap Hit: $606,118
2019 Season Breakdown:
In a very rare instance, Nick Vannett is a Steelers unrestricted free agent who was not even on the team’s 53-man roster, or their offseason 90-man roster, at any point prior to the start of the 2019 regular season. They only acquired the four-year veteran tight end after trading for him, sending their own 2020 fifth-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks to bring him in.
A former third-round pick out of Ohio State, Vannett is a player that the Steelers were interested in when he first came out, and they kept tabs on him. Once Xavier Grimble went down early in the year and was placed on injured reserve, and then Vance McDonald got nicked up, they pulled the trigger on the trade. They almost surely overpaid for him, but he proved to be important, logging nearly 400 snaps in the 13 games for which he played with the Steelers. He also logged 100 snaps on special teams.
Vannett is not a player who is going to wow anybody. His most notable trait is that he is slightly on the big side at 6’6” and over 260 pounds. He’s not going to be a prolific pass catcher—he caught 13 passes for 128 yards last year—and his blocking is merely adequately on most occasions.
That is who had showed himself to be in his 13 games with the Steelers last season. But he still has some room to grow, and he did that while adjusting to a pretty serious life change. McDonald’s first season in Pittsburgh, when he was acquired in training camp, wasn’t a whole lot different. Perhaps playing with Ben Roethlisberger, they could get somewhat more out of him.
Free Agency Outlook:
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has already said that the team would like to be able to keep Vannett in the mix. Right now, they don’t have a lot going on in the way of stability or consistency at the tight end position.
McDonald is coming off of a serious down year, and the only other tight end on the roster of note is Zach Gentry, who spent three quarters of the season as a healthy scratch even though the team never had more than three tight ends on the roster at any given time.
Even if the Steelers end up, for example, using a second-round pick (their highest) on a tight end, it would still behoove them to re-sign Vannett provided that the market rate allows for it and their salary cap situation.
They can’t count on Gentry growing into a ready number two tight end by the start of the 2020 season, nor can they guarantee that a rookie would do that either. Vannett seemed to really enjoy his time in Pittsburgh and would like to stay as well. He doesn’t do anything great, but he is capable of doing everything well enough.