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: Offensive lineman Joe Haeg is your new blocking tight end.
Explanation: The Steelers signed veteran offensive lineman Joe Haeg to a one-year contract in free agency. He has spent most of his time over the past three years lining up as a tackle-eligible tight end, but he also has a couple of seasons’ worth of starting experience at guard and tackle.
The Steelers didn’t sign Haeg to start, that much is obvious. He probably isn’t even going to be in the conversation of any training camp ‘battle’. And the Steelers are also the team that uses tackle-eligibles as extra blockers more than anybody else.
Zach Banner stepped into that role for more than 200 snaps in 2019. It wasn’t as necessary nor possible last year, however, with Banner moving into the starting lineup ,and then getting injured, leaving Chukwuma Okorafor to start and Jerald Hawkins being brought back and playing in that role.
But since then, Vance McDonald has retired, and they really don’t even have a number two tight end to speak of, and Eric Ebron certainly is not going to be the blocker. The tackle-eligible is something that the team has used consistently for at least several dozen snaps every year since 2012, predating and postdating Mike Munchak, so it’s not going away.
For starters, the Steelers are still not done making moves. They are still trying to deal Steven Nelson. It’s possible that they could acquire a blocking tight end via this method. Or they could simply sign a budget free agent, a Lee Smith-type of player, though Smith himself is not available.
This also feels like the draft that the Steelers finally decide to actually address the tight end position. it’s been after a decade since they last used a pick earlier than the fourth round here, so that streak has to come to an end at some point.
The dark horse here is Kevin Rader, as well. While he is a former undrafted free agent who has spent his time on the practice squad, let’s not discount his opportunity to move up. Zach Gentry isn’t going to be redshirted anymore.