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: The Steelers will not draft a tight end after signing Eric Ebron.
Explanation: Entering the offseason process as one of their biggest needs, the Steelers’ most significant move of the offseason so far was to bolster the tight end position, agreeing to a two-year, $12 million contract with Eric Ebron, who most recently was a Pro Bowler in 2018. While he is not without his warts, the paring of Ebron and Vance McDonald provides the team with the most talent they have had at the position since Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth.
Considering the fact that the Steelers still like to make use of the tackle-eligible role (Zach Banner played over 200 snaps there last season, and even if he ends up as the starting right tackle, Chukwuma Okorafor, who already did it in 2018, would assume that role), Pittsburgh has already answered its questions at tight end.
That started with the decision to convert McDonald’s base salary into a signing bonus, which also included a slight salary cut. They would not have bothered to do this—they simple would not have picked up his option—unless they intended to keep him, so we know that they are going into 2020 with McDonald and Ebron.
Last year, they had McDonald and Xavier Grimble, and then McDonald and Nick Vannett. McDonald and Ebron are clearly an upgrade, while they anticipate growth from Zach Gentry in his second season.
Considering the fact that the Steelers’ wide receiver and running backs are not blowing anyone away, as perhaps they once did during the Killer Bs era, answers can be sought continually at the tight end position, in which they have not invested higher than a fifth-round pick in 13 years. That’s right, 13 years.
Neither McDonald nor Ebron are long-term answers, even if Ebron, entering his seventh season, is only set to turn 27 shortly. McDonald will already be turning 30 in June. Both players have injury and drop history.
The Steelers need a young talent with more stable upside in the pipeline other than Gentry. While this is not a great tight end class, they can do better than a converted quarterback with one catch and 49 snaps under his belt.