Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason and everything that means. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: TE Zach Gentry
Stock Value: Up
Reasoning: The veteran tight end continued to establish his value in the Steelers’ offense this season, just in time for him to hit free agency. His departure would create a significant hole in their roster for the primary blocking tight end role, which nobody else currently on the roster could fill.
Halfway through his professional career, fans were getting sick of carrying Zach Gentry’s 265 pounds of perceived dead weight. But he’s been throwing his weight around more successfully in the second half of his career, and that means time for a new contract.
Now, he’s not going to be getting Travis Kelce money anytime soon, but he is going to get some life-changing cashflow coming his way. He could reasonably hit at least a few million per year for a team looking for a big blocking tight end with some pass-catching upside still on the young side of his career.
There is, I think, a bit of a misperception that blocking tight ends don’t get paid, but they do when they deserve it. The Baltimore Ravens took crap when they gave Nick Boyle a three-year, $18 million deal, but they didn’t think twice about it. Gentry isn’t going to hit that mark, though.
There is no doubt that he earned a fair-market second contract this season. He continues to make progress as a full-time blocker and still had room to grow in that regard, but he’s already more than solid, on average. And I continue to maintain that he can successfully be used more in the passing game. He’s also the in-game emergency quarterback, so there’s that.
Increasing his value to the Steelers is the fact that they don’t have anybody else who can be that in-line blocker. Connor Heyward doesn’t even have the size, while Pat Freiermuth simply hasn’t developed that level of execution in his craft. He talks about wanting to be a better blocker but I’m not sure if the Steelers’ priority for him is too fixed on the passing game for him to develop the necessary skills.
It’s not that you can’t find another blocking tight end, don’t get me wrong. He’s not irreplaceable, but why would you want to if you didn’t have to? And drafting a tight end? Even those profiled as blockers typically take two or three years to really come into their own in that transition to the NFL level.