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 by then. 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 2021 NFL Draft.
The Steelers had 10 starters or primary players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this offseason and have re-signed only five of them, those being JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, Zach Banner, Tyson Alualu, and Jordan Berry. They re-signed a number exclusive rights or restricted free agents, chiefly Robert Spillane and J.C. Hassenauer, while signing Ray-Ray McCloud to a non-tender deal.
The deals of Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward, Derek Watt, and Eric Ebron were restructured, while those of Steven Nelson and Vince Williams were terminated, the latter being re-signed. Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired.
Of note, the Steelers have added five players as unrestricted or street agents from outside of the organization, including three offensive linemen in Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward, and former Steeler B.J. Finney. The group also includes linebacker Miles Killebrew and running back Kalen Ballage.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 5
Offseason Additions: 0
Offseason Deletions: 0
Eric Ebron: Last year’s major free agent acquisition, Ebron proved to be exactly what was on the tin he came in: A playmaking, non-blocking tight end who will frustrate you with dropped balls but also make clutch and impressive catches. Here’s to a little more consistency in 2021.
Zach Gentry: Gentry is off scholarship now after basically redshirting for the past two seasons as a former quarterback convert. A fifth-round pick in 2019, he has spent almost his entire career as a healthy scratch, except when there have been injuries.
Kevin Rader: Rader is becoming a practice squad veteran at this point. But with the current state of the position, he could move up to the 53-man roster, where he spent a very brief period of time last season after an injury to Gentry. He displayed some special teams abilities, which will curry favor with Danny Smith.
Charles Jones: The ‘veteran’ of the back-end players, Jones once spent four games in 2019 active for the Dolphins, catching one pass. He spent some time on Pittsburgh’s practice squad last year as a former college free agent out of Tulane.
Dax Raymond: Another former undrafted free agent, Pittsburgh originally signed Raymond in July, but waived him injured in late August. They signed him to a Reserve/Future contract after the season was over, showing continued interested in him.
Players Added: N/A
Players Deleted: N/A
Notes And Draft Outlook:
There have been no changes to the Steelers’ tight end depth chart since the beginning of free agency, when last we went over the roster position by position. This of course does not account for the retirement of Vance McDonald, which happened earlier in the offseason.
Given the state of the position, it is a necessity that the team addresses tight end. Perhaps from multiple angles. Many still expect them to add a veteran tight end like Jesse James. But we could also see them target a tight end high in the draft — basically anybody but Kyle Pitts, long gone by 24th overall.
Penn State’s Pat Freiermuth is a name mentioned a lot, and the Steelers clearly like him. But he seems more like an early second round player, in between where Pittsburgh drafts. They would either have to reach for him in the first round, hope he slides in the second, or move around to get him, either up from the second or down from the first.
Of course, they could make any number of moves in the draft related to tight end. They haven’t drafted one earlier than the fifth round since 2007. History isn’t exactly in favor of them making a major move this route. But trends always get broken eventually.