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: Second-year tight end Zach Gentry will continue to spend a good portion of the 2020 season as a healthy scratch.
Explanation: The Steelers, like most teams, ordinarily prefer to dress three tight ends on game day, but doing so just for the sake of it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Gentry was a rookie in 2019, and a raw one at that, so he spent most of the year as a healthy scratch, allowing them to utilize contributors at other positions. Having a tackle-eligible so prominent in their offense helped to lessen the need to dress three tight ends.
As stated at the end of the explanatory statement above, the tackle-eligible will remain a big part of this conversation. Zach Banner proved to be much more than a gimmick as an additional blocker in 2019, actually becoming a staple part of their offense, going on to play over 200 snaps during the year, and if memory serves, none came actually at tackle.
The reality is Gentry isn’t even guaranteed a roster spot. There is a high degree of probability that the Steelers will draft a tight end fairly high in the draft, as early as the second round. With Vance McDonald looking like he’s being retained and the team expressing interest in re-signing Nick Vannett, he could be relegated to the practice squad for another year of seasoning.
For all we know, Banner may end up as the starting right tackle in 2020, reducing the importance of the tackle-eligible role, and raising the need to dress three tight ends again. As we currently stand, there’s no reason to think he won’t be the number three tight end, and that won’t change at the very least until they re-sign Vannett, if that happens, or add somebody else in free agency.
Gentry also has some natural talent that we saw at Michigan. He can be a contributor in the passing game if given the opportunity to play. All he has to do is make some plays in training cap and the preseason to get it out in front of the coaches. With McDonald on the decline as a receiving option, or so it seems, an opportunity could form. They drafted him because they saw the talent, also knowing he would pretty much redshirt.