With the signing of former Chargers tight end Ladarius Green, the Steelers are officially declaring to the rest of the NFL: our offense is unstoppable, and it will win us a Super Bowl.
In a rare move, the Pittsburgh Steelers indulged in the free agent market and snagged former Charger Ladarius Green – a transaction that goes deeper than taking Heath Miller’s spot at tight end.
Green’s 4-year/$20 million deal is hardly expensive, but given the Steelers cap situation, it’s not chump change. Pittsburgh has nearly $6 million in cap space remaining following the addition of Green, who will earn $2.4 million in 2016. His total dead cap hit jumps up to $4.8 million.
This is money that could have been spent on a cornerback, pass rusher or defensive tackle – and clearly, the Steelers defense is in need of more improvement. Instead, the Steelers went all-in on the offensive side, a move that indicates that the defense is second priority. This Steelers offense, a daunting mix of well-established veterans and young talent with limitless potential, seems destined to have a historic season.
That’s what the Steelers are banking on, at least. On paper, there’s no way to stop this offense. Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 400 yards a game seems like a legitimate possibility, as does another batch of league records for Antonio Brown. Le’Veon Bell will be back, Martavis Bryant is a freak … you know the spiel by now.
No matter how flashy the offense is, the key factor that will determine the success of the Green signing is the Steelers’ red zone efficiency.
Last season, the Steelers scored a touchdown in the red zone 57% of the time, good for thirteenth best in the NFL. Still, an offense this dynamic should have no problem reaching a higher conversion rate. (The Panthers led the league in 2015 with a 69% touchdown conversion rate in the red zone.)
If the Steelers can boost their red zone conversion percentage to around 65% – maybe even higher – then this team will likely be averaging 35 points per game. SportsCenter anchors will be raving about the Steelers’ video game numbers. Fantasy owners will have the entire Steelers offense in the top fifty of their draft board. Pittsburgh’s “World Class on Grass” offense will go down in NFL folklore with the Rams’ Greatest Show on Turf.
With Ladarius Green as the ideal solution for this issue, the Steelers couldn’t refuse to pull the trigger. At 6’6″ and 240 lbs, he has similar proportions to recent retiree Calvin Johnson. At the 2012 NFL Combine, Green ran a 4.53 forty-yard-dash and notched a 34.5 inch vertical jump. He is 25 and only entering his prime years as a starter.
His blocking skills won’t be on the same level as Heath Miller’s. But a two-tight end set in the red zone featuring Green opposite the 6’7″ Jesse James is nightmare fuel for defenders. The Steelers have no excuse to not improve on their offensive output.
Team management has decided that the Steelers defense, while certainly improving, is still too shaky to support a Super Bowl run. Even if the Eric Weddle dream comes true, the defense will not absolved of other weaknesses at pass rusher and corner. With an offense as electrifying as theirs, though, the Steelers are betting that it won’t be a problem.
2015’s resilient campaign sparked conversations of a Steelers Super Bowl run this season. With the acquisition of Ladarius Green, Pittsburgh has formally accepted that challenge.