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 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers did not have as many starters as last year hit free agency, but as of yet, they have only re-signed one of note, Chukwuma Okorafor. JuJu Smith-Schuster has already signed elsewhere, but others such as Trai Turner, Joe Haden, and Terrell Edmunds remain unsigned.
They were substantially active in free agency, however, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon, Arthur Maulet, Miles Killebrew, Montravius Adams, Robert Spillane, Marcus Allen, and J.C. Hassenauer. They also signed linemen James Daniels and Mason Cole in outside free agency, as well as quarterback Mitch Trubisky, cornerback Levi Wallace, wide receiver/returner Gunner Olszewski, linebacker Myles Jack, and outside linebacker Genard Avery.
The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Joe Schobert and tackle Zach Banner. As of now, they have not restructured any contracts, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is likely.
Position: Tight End
Total Positional Figure: 4
Offseason Additions: 0
Offseason Deletions: 1
Pat Freiermuth: Last year’s second-round draft pick, Freiermuth may not be a great center, but he’s sure shown signs of being a well-rounded tight end. He finished his rookie year with seven touchdowns, all in the red zone, which is where they most wanted his help. He has the demeanor to continue to work at his craft and actively pursue the project of getting better.
Zach Gentry: Finally blossoming into a contributor in his third season, Gentry became the Steelers’ primary run-blocking tight end in 2021. With Eric Ebron gone, he could begin to see an expanded role as a receiving option, especially with the wide receiver departures this offseason. He exited college as a much stronger pass-catcher than blocker, so there is more on the bone than we’ve seen in-game.
Kevin Rader: Having spent most of the past three years with the team, including a couple of trips to the 53-man roster, Rader is the in-house favorite to take over the number three role. He is a capable blocker and offers value on special teams.
Jace Sternberger: A former high draft pick, Sternberger was added to the practice squad in-season, and could compete with Rader for that third tight end spot later this year. He caught 48 passes for 832 yards and 10 touchdowns as a junior during his one season after transferring to Texas A&M in 2018, drafted by the Packers in round three the following year.
Players Added: N/A
Eric Ebron: While he put in a solid first season with the team in 2020, Ebron saw a reduced role last season, splitting time with then-rookie Freiermuth, before a mid-season injury wiped him out for the rest of the year. He has said that he is now healthy, but there haven’t been any indications that anybody is in a rush to sign him. Team could be waiting until the compensatory period passes after the draft.
Notes And Draft Outlook:
Even though they are losing a player who began last season listed as a co-starter, I do not expect the Steelers to address the tight end position in any significant way during the 2022 NFL Draft. They like and have a good deal of experience with Rader already, who has logged seven regular-season games in the past two years as it is. With Sternberger in tow for competition, they will likely only add some college free agents to the position during the weekend of the draft.