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 more than a dozen players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, including numerous starters. Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement looms large over all discussions for the foreseeable future.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 5
Pat Freiermuth: A second-round draft pick in 2021, Freiermuth had a successful rookie season that saw him establish a reputation for reliable hands and a knack for finding the soft spaces in coverage in the end zone. Not without his blemishes, he has shown the demeanor to get better and grow heading into year two.
Eric Ebron: The eight-year veteran will be an unrestricted free agent in a couple of weeks after completing a two-year contract with the Steelers, the second of which was thoroughly unremarkable and saw him give way to Freiermuth as the top tight end. There are no indications that the team will be looking to bring him back at this time.
Zach Gentry: After spending most of his first two seasons on the inactive list, Gentry became a significant part of the offense in 2021, establishing himself as their primary blocking tight end. Late in the season, he started to pick up more targets, which could potentially carry over into 2022 as well.
Kevin Rader: With Ebron not expected to return, the door is once again open for Rader, who has spent years on the practice squad, and also time on the 53-man roster due to injuries, to establish his claim on the number three tight end role. He is capable as a blocker and contribute on special teams.
Jace Sternberger: Signed to the practice squad during the 2021 season, Sternberger is a former third-round draft pick with prior playing experience with the Packers, albeit to the tune of 262 pro snaps. He does have a touchdown on his stat sheet, though, and has special teams work.
Technically, the Steelers don’t really need to address the tight end position this offseason if they don’t feel the need rises to the level of interfering with their ability to add talent to areas of the roster that are of greater concern. They have their top two settled at least in Freiermuth and Gentry.
The third tight end spot is up for grabs, but they like Rader and have seen him work, and it’s not as though they haven’t spent most of the past several years only dressing two tight ends, anyway. But Rader’s ability to contribute on special teams is an asset as well.
They could decide to utilize some of their cap space to bring in a low-level veteran tight end, which should not be too costly, and would almost surely be one who leans strongly toward the blocking aspect of the role, but it’s hard to see them devoting any draft resources here.