It’s generally understood that when a team makes the effort to trade for a player, they would ordinarily want to try to keep that player around. Often enough, such players who are traded only become available because the teams dealing them know they won’t be retaining him after the year when they his unrestricted free agency, however, as they enter the final deals on their current contracts.
That’s where the Pittsburgh Steelers are with veteran tight end Nick Vannett, whom they acquired in the course of the 2019 season. After Xavier Grimble was put on injured reserve and Vance McDonald was injured against the San Francisco 49ers, they sent a fifth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks to get Vannett, a former third-round pick out of Ohio State.
While he only contributed 13 receptions for 128 yards, they knew when they signed him that they were getting a number two type of tight end who is as much or more of a blocker than he is a receiving threat. By and large, that is the role that he carried out for Pittsburgh over the course of 13 games.
Having already invested a fifth-round pick in his acquisition, the team now has to decide at what price they can and are willing to retain him, as he is scheduled to hit the open market in now just under a month.
While there isn’t likely to be a bidding war for his services, we saw several tight ends like Nick Boyle, Tyler Kroft, C.J. Uzomah, and former Steeler Jesse James command average annual salaries of around $5 million last offseason. If they didn’t pay James that, they’re obviously not paying Vannett that. But he won’t command that rate.
Speaking to reporters last week, general manager Kevin Colbert did speak highly of their second trade acquisition of the 2019 season (the first of course being Minkah Fitzpatrick). “Nick Vannett provided nice depth”, he told reporters. “We hope we can find a way to keep Nick in the mix”.
McDonald is under contract for 2020 provided that the Steelers pick up his option. Zach Gentry is coming off a rookie season during which he was essentially a healthy scratch. These are the only tight ends of note that they currently control heading into the next season.
The team is expected to address the position in the 2020 NFL Draft—likely higher than the fifth round for the first time since 2007 when they took Matt Spaeth in round three—but even if they do, they will still want to keep Vannett around, at least provided that he can be retained at an affordable rate.