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 still need another tight end.
Explanation: While the Steelers did address the tight end position in the draft in a significant way with the second-round addition of Pat Freiermuth, their options for the third player on the depth chart leave a lot to be desired.
Need can be relative here. They can get by with only two solid tight ends, because frankly, that’s what they’ve been doing in recent years. Zach Gentry has been their number three during that time. Pittsburgh made him a healthy scratch whenever either he or somebody else wasn’t injured. With that said, they also had tackles to play tight end, and Zach Banner figures to be starting this year.
You can’t have only one tight end who is capable of blocking. That is the case when Eric Ebron is your number one. You could slot Pat Freiermuth can be your blocking tight end, but what happens if he gets injured? Not having a blocking tight end is a major hindrance to your run game. Practice squad-level players are not going to cut it.
When you have a guy like Jesse James, a street free agent who doesn’t have any compensatory influence, sitting out there ready to be signed, it seems foolish for the Steelers not to go after him and make that addition to round out what would suddenly be quite a strong, deep, even versatile group.
When you have four wide receivers like the Steelers’ top four, you are not going to spend much time ever thinking about your number three tight end. Whether it’s Gentry or Kevin Rader or Charles Jones or Dax Raymond or somebody who isn’t even currently on the roster. They’re probably not going to figure into anything.
The Steelers have done a lot of work to improve their run game. But they’re not suddenly going to become a run-first team. Ebron and Freiermuth are more than enough for the passing game. And rookie Dan Moore could be the tackle-eligible this year, or whoever loses a starting job at tackle could. Both Banner and Okorafor have done it. The tackle-eligible has been a built-in feature of the Steelers’ offense for a decade.
And let’s not completely disregard the group that they have here. Rader has the potential to be a serviceable number three blocking tight end, and is special teams-capable to boot. Gentry still has the opportunity to develop, and perhaps new coach Alfredo Roberts can draw something out of him. Raymond was an intriguing name, as well. Get them in camp and see what they’re made of before worrying about a retread or other castaway.