The Pittsburgh Steelers prioritize building through the draft rather than through free agency or trade more than most teams. This has long been their reputation. What may be forgotten in that is that it also extends to retaining their homegrown talent when they hit free agency.
Outside of certain top-end talents at very expensive positions, the Steelers largely do as good at job as any team in retaining their core players. Guys like Cameron Heyward, Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, and many others never played a second for another franchise.
But every team has to make hard decisions at some point. For example, at what price do they have to draw the line in making a decision about re-signing tight end Zach Gentry? All factors have to be considered, including other options in free agency as well as in the upcoming draft.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette beat writer Ray Fittipaldo believes that could impact contract discussions for the fifth-year tight end as he prepares for the first time in his career to be a free agent. In response to a question about draft depth during yesterday’s chat session, he pointed out that tight end is one position in which this year’s class is strong.
“That could factor into the Zach Gentry negotiations”, he acknowledged, referring to tight end depth in the draft. “He’s a good No. 2 TE, but with so many good ones coming out in the draft there is no need to overpay in free agency for his services”.
This is a topic we recently broached ourselves, with Jonathan Heitritter exploring these very factors. He cited draft prospects such as Zack Kuntz, Brayden Willis, and Noah Gindorff as potential targets if the Steelers fail to re-sign Gentry or add another veteran. He also offered Eric Tomlinson and Drew Sample as potential veteran replacements.
Regardless of whether or not the Steelers do re-sign Gentry specifically, addressing his role within the offense is important. He is the only tight end body on the roster who is capable of being a full-time in-line blocker, and that includes Pat Freiermuth, at least up to this point. Regardless of what the future holds for Connor Heyward, he simply lacks the size to block in-line with any kind of regularity.
In the past, Pittsburgh has turned toward tackle-eligibles such as Zach Banner, most notably, to serve that in-line blocking tight end role. But they currently don’t have the offensive line depth to fall back on that as a strategy, either.
Gentry expressed confidence earlier this offseason in his belief that the Steelers want to keep him around, it should be noted. He said in an interview that he would be surprised if they didn’t do what was necessary to try to keep him.
But we’re also working with a new front office that includes new pro and college scouts. Not only might they offer differing opinions about Gentry’s value, but also the value of the alternative options relative to what he would offer in 2023 and beyond. Including, perhaps, his key role in the Grillin’ and Chillin’ platform.