It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers are likely to be subject to more change than they are used to this year, with 19 players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Two other important players have retired, so there is more shuffling of the deck than normal in Pittsburgh.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 5
Eric Ebron: Ebron had about the most ‘as advertised’ first season of a free agent signing that I can recall in a while. Everything we thought we knew about him he showed on the field, warts and all. He is athletic and makes some great catches. He also drops a good number of bad ones, and can’t block very well. But he wasn’t brought here to block.
Zach Gentry: Entering his third year, Gentry is probably off of scholarship by now. The 6’9” former quarterback has to show in 2021 that he is capable of being on the field as a tight end in order to stay on the 53-man roster.
Kevin Rader: One of the reasons he might not be there is if they give Rader a proper shot, a former undrafted free agent who knows how to block, and is capable of playing on special teams, as he showed at the end of last season when he replaced Gentry due to injury on the roster.
Charles Jones: A Tulane product, Jones has average size for the position. Spent a brief period of time on the Jaguars’ 53 at the end of the 2019 season. He spent about a month and a half on the Steelers’ practice squad last year, and was retained on a futures deal.
Dax Raymond: Originally signed in training camp Raymond was waived injured, but they signed him to a futures contract after the season was over. He is another unheralded player with a bit of upside.
Vance McDonald: After eight years in the league and four with the Steelers, McDonald announced his retirement earlier this offseason. Having even way to Ebron as the number one, he reverted into a more blocking-centric role in his final season. He would have been a prime candidate to be released as a cap casualty had he not retired.
This is shaping up to be the year that the Steelers finally address the tight end position in a significant way in the NFL Draft. The last time that they have used a draft selection higher than the fifth round on the position was all the way back in 2007, when they drafted Matt Spaeth.
I have written some variation of that line a lot over the past many years, and I’m hoping I can finally stop writing it, as it would mean that Pittsburgh has finally drafted a tight end with some pedigree. But that is far from assured, with Eric Ebron still on the top of the food chain.
There is a good chance they will try to add a cheap veteran who is capable of blocking to replace Vance McDonald. Jesse James could be let go, and that would be an obvious candidate, but there are others. The recently released Kyle Rudolph will probably command too much, but it’s worth kicking the tires.