We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had eight primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only one of them, that being Bud Dupree on the franchise tag. Unrestricted free agents who signed elsewhere were Javon Hargrave, B.J. Finney, Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich, Nick Vannett, and Artie Burns. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Matt Feiler and Mike Hilton, as well as Zach Banner, Kameron Canaday, and Jordan Dangerfield on non-tender one-year deals. The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Boswell, and Vance McDonald were all restructured.
Also of note were the releases of Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, Johnny Holton, and Roosevelt Nix, and the retirement of Ramon Foster, as well as three significant signings in free agency, adding a new fullback in Roosevelt Nix, a potential starting lineman in Stefen Wisniewski, and a new tight end in Eric Ebron.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 5
Offseason Additions: 1
Offseason Deletions: 1
Vance McDonald: There was some question as to whether or not the Steelers would hold onto McDonald this year, especially if they targeted the tight end position. Well, they did that, and kept McDonald, too, coming off a disappointing season, though he took a slight pay cut as well.
Zach Gentry: A 2019 fifth-round pick, Gentry spent the season as the number three tight end, and didn’t even dress for 12 games. Ordinarily, it’s very rare for a third tight end to not even be active, which speaks to how they felt about his readiness to contribute.
Kevin Rader: Spent the season bouncing on and off the practice squad. While I wouldn’t exactly give him very strong odds of making the jump to the 53-man roster, he has played well enough in preseason games.
Christian Scotland-Williamson: The rugby player has spent two years on the practice squad now. Will he get a third? That’s really the only question.
Eric Ebron: The biggest free agent signing of the offseason for the Steelers, Ebron comes over on a two-year, $12 million deal. It goes without saying that Ebron is seen as a receiving threat, not so much a complete tight end, and he should be used accordingly.
Nick Vannett: Acquired via trade mid-season for a fifth-round pick, it’s not clear how much interest the Steelers ever had of re-signing him, but with signing of Ebron obviously made that point irrelevant. He eventually signed elsewhere, and drew some heat for some comments he made about his time in Pittsburgh, which I believe have been partly misconstrued.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Even with the retention of McDonald and the signing of Ebron, the tight end position is still vulnerable, because neither of them should be regarded as reliable and stable pieces. Both of them have their warts, including injuries, and there isn’t a promising prospect in the pipeline. But given the scarcity of draft resources, it’s hard to envision them taking a tight end, especially in a weak class. Alas…if only they’d drafted George Kittle. Of course, they’d have to be paying up now.