It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.
The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents shortly, and a number of large contracts could be salary cap casualties, so a lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.
Position: Tight End/Fullback
Total Positional Figure: 5
Pat Freiermuth: Freiermuth made strides as a receiver, particularly as he gained more targets in the intermediate area. He did not show anticipated growth as a blocker, but I’m not sure how invested the Steelers are at this point in making him the next Heath Miller with respect to utility. They want him making those third-down catches.
Connor Heyward: Nepotism? I couldn’t give less of a [redacted]. Anybody who still has complaints about the Steelers using a draft pick on Cameron Heyward’s little brother didn’t bother to give Connor Heyward a fair chance. He earned his roster spot on special teams, for starters, and then proceeded to prove that he can be an offensive contributor as well. His role has the potential for expansion moving forward, including as a backfield blocker and potentially even as a runner.
Rodney Williams: Signed to the practice squad in September as a college free agent, Williams, spent the rest of the season with the team and was re-signed on a Reserve/Future contract. He is a receiving-first tight end with 99 collegiate receptions for 1,217 yards and seven touchdowns. He has strong athletic traits even if he lacks ideal size. He should be interesting to watch in training camp at least, assuming he’s still on the team by then.
Pending Free Agents:
Derek Watt: More of that delicious nepotism, Watt has completed a three-year contract that paid him nearly $10 million and is the primary reason the Steelers failed to win a Super Bowl during that time. They may want to retain him beyond his current contract, but it will likely come closer to a veteran minimum contract.
Zach Gentry: Gentry is one of the more interesting free agents for the Steelers this offseason. Do they think he’s a good enough blocker to re-sign him without considering seeking an upgrade in free agency? It does seem they’ve started to pigeonhole him into that role even though he came out of college more as a receiving tight end.
For matters of convenience, I’ve condensed the tight end and fullback positions into one piece for consideration. The two may prove more interrelated than usual moving forward as well, especially if the team elects not to re-sign Watt and Heyward becomes their featured ‘fullback’.
One thing is for certain, and that is that they will need to either re-sign Gentry or replace him with a like player. Specifically, they require a big-bodied tight end who can serve as an end-line blocker. They do not currently have anybody who can fill that role.
My guess is that they re-sign Gentry, but if they don’t, they’re likely to add another veteran to take his place, because they’re not going to trust a rookie to be their primary blocker. And they don’t like going into the draft with holes, either.