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: Tight end is the Steelers’ biggest need this offseason.
Explanation: When the new league year starts, the team will only have two tight ends with NFL experience on the roster, one being Vance McDonald, their starter who is coming off of a disappointing season, as well as Zach Gentry, who spent most of his rookie year a healthy scratch. Nick Vannett will be an unrestricted free agent.
Put simply, there is no other group on the roster this weak. Vance McDonald had his chance to prove himself as being the guy this past season, and he failed. Even measured against the quarterback play, he failed. He broke one tackle all season and averaged just 7.2 yards per catch. He’s not a big-play threat nor is he a possession guy. Now he’s just costly, and there’s a good argument for him being released.
Even if they re-sign Vannett, he is just an average number two tight end at best, who is merely competent at blocking, and not much of a receiving threat. Zach Gentry is entirely unproven, so it remains to be seen what ‘upside’ he might have.
It would behoove the Steelers, should the circumstances allow for it, to use their top pick on a tight end, if not, at least their second pick, because they have been talent-deficient in this area for too long already, one good season by McDonald notwithstanding. The other position groups at least have talent or depth.
There is no position on the roster that needs a new starter in 2020, not even tight end, McDonald and Vannett are good enough with a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and offense around them to get the job done, even though it would be great to get another talent in there.
So if we’re not talking about a starter, then we’re looking at depth, and the offensive line and running back positions, as well as the safety and outside linebacker spots, are all in the discussion here. And let’s not forget, Javon Hargrave will surely sign elsewhere. The Steelers need a new nose tackle. As reduced as that role might be, it automatically makes the defensive line the biggest need. Perhaps they even need two new tackles, if they can dump Daniel McCullers.