Heitritter: Why Pittsburgh Shouldn’t Re-Sign TE Zach Gentry This Offseason

The Pittsburgh Steelers head into the offseason having several players hitting free agency this offseason, creating various holes on the roster that the team needs to address prior to the start of the 2023 season. CB Cam Sutton, S Terrell Edmunds, and DL Larry Ogunjobi and Chris Wormley headline the list, but one underrated upcoming free agent is TE Zach Gentry.

Gentry has grown as a player the last two seasons in Pittsburgh, becoming the team’s de-facto #2 TE behind Pat Freiermuth, playing in their heavy sets as a big blocking presence. His play took a step back this past season, but his steady improvement to become a viable #2 option at the position has kept Pittsburgh from having to address TE behind Freiermuth.

While Gentry shouldn’t command a ton of attention of the free agent market, I would personably advise Pittsburgh to think twice about re-signing him; a transaction that many believe to be a given.

Zach Gentry is a former fifth-round pick coming off a four-year rookie deal of $2,864,460 he signed back in 2019. While retaining Gentry should cause Pittsburgh to break the back, he should expect a significant pay raise. The TE position often gets “overpaid” relative to the production on the field. Former Steelers TE Jesse James was also a fifth-round pick back in 2015 and posted no more that 423 receiving yards and three TDs in any season with the team but cashed in on a four-year pact with the Detroit Lions for $22.6 million in 2019.

Gentry had his best season in 2021, recording 19 receptions for 167 yards, so he should command a deal like James got, but he still will likely get anywhere from 3-4 million annually on the open market given his size (6’8, 265lb) and experience as a #2 blocking TE. While Pittsburgh could re-sign Gentry for that amount, that going rate appears high compared to other positions like safety where Edmunds was had for less than that as a reliable, experienced starter in the secondary.

Another issue with re-signing Gentry is the lack of ceiling. He showed improvement from 2020 to 2021, but that was mainly since he actually got on the football field and wasn’t injured like in his first two seasons. While a capable blocking TE, Gentry took a noticeable step back in 2022 while also failing to provide much as a passing game option behind Freiermuth, having rookie TE Connor Heyward make more of an impact than Gentry on far fewer offensive snaps.

Therefore, should the price tag to retain Gentry be higher that what the return on investment would be relative to the position, I would suggest Pittsburgh look at other options on the free agent market that are more accomplished blockers (IE Eric Tomlinson, Drew Sample, etc) or go to the draft and select a Day Three developmental player that possesses the size and tape to contribute right away as a blocking TE/special teamer while offering more of a ceiling as a pass catcher than Gentry (IE Zack Kuntz, Brayden Willis, Noah Gindorff, etc).

This isn’t a statement that the Pittsburgh Steelers shouldn’t consider re-signing TE Zach Gentry. Rather, I would caution Pittsburgh to avoid having to retain Gentry for a price greater than what he is worth when his skill set and role on the roster is relatively replaceable given what he has accomplished thus far in his NFL career. He is a great locker room guy and has a known relationship with Pat Freiermuth. Still, those factors shouldn’t force Pittsburgh to bring him back at a rate greater than his worth on the roster, being able to fill his spot rather easily with another outside free agent for less cash or by investing a later round draft pick into a prospect with more upside.

What are your thoughts on TE Zach Gentry? Do you think that the Steelers should re-sign him this offseason? What contract do you think he should be given and at what point would his price tag be too much to consider bringing back in 2023? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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