The Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of key free agents this offseason, but they skew pretty heavily toward the defense. The offense largely consists of young players who have been drafted within the past three years.
One player the team would like to be able to re-sign on that side of the football, though, is four-year veteran tight end Zach Gentry, who will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Briefly, back home in Albuquerque, he talked with Van Tate of KRQE about his immediate future and his hopes of staying in Pittsburgh.
“We’ll see. I would be surprised if Pittsburgh didn’t do the necessary things to try to keep me there”, he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s a business, so it really comes down to numbers and feels and fit and all that good stuff that I’m gonna have to put on my agents and stress about in March. We’ll see how it all ends up, but I would definitely be happy to remain in Pittsburgh”.
A fifth-round pick out of Michigan in 2019, Gentry played very little during his first two seasons, often spending time as a healthy scratch as he continued to work on transitioning from quarterback to tight end. As the position room turned over, however, he found himself in a prominent role in 2021 and became their primary blocking tight end.
He’s played well over 1,000 offensive snaps now during the past two seasons, much of that carrying out blocking assignments, even though he was initially drafted due to his pass-catching ability that he showed during his somewhat limited college playing time.
The reason the Steelers drafted him, however, is because they believed that he could be developed into an all-around tight end, and first through former tight ends coach James Daniel and now his successor in Alfredo Roberts, they’ve helped him turn that corner.
Serving as the number two tight end to Pat Freiermuth, he knows that he is asked to do a lot of the team’s dirty work, but says he doesn’t mind that role, and that he’s not somebody who needs five or 10 touches a game to be happy.
He’s probably not going to earn money in the range of guys like Austin Hooper and the like at $6 million per season, but could he fall in with a group of players like Hayden Hurst and Robert Tonyan, pushing $4 million? Don’t be surprised. Jesse James got a four-year $22.6 million deal back in 2019.
With Freiermuth still limited as an in-line blocker, the Steelers’ offense would lose a key piece if they were to lose Gentry in free agency, and one way or another, that role would need to be replaced. Connor Heyward isn’t going to do it, for obvious reasons.
And a draft pick isn’t going to do it, either. It generally takes tight ends a few years to adjust to the NFL in that role. And even assuming Freiermuth could make that jump this year, they don’t want him blocking so often.