The Pittsburgh Steelers could find their answer at tight end in free agency


The Pittsburgh Steelers have a mediocre tight end situation, but with one offseason signing, they could finally find the missing piece to their puzzle.

Jesse James seems to be the only tight end in Pittsburgh with a secure job. The fourth-year tight end hasn’t been a star in the NFL, but has done enough to become a reliable asset for the Steelers.

Outside of James, though, the team has struggled finding someone to take over as the top pass catching tight end. James thrives as a blocker, but when it comes to receiving, he isn’t much of a threat in vertical routes.

Vance McDonald could’ve easily been the answer to Pittsburgh’s problems. The speedy pass catcher shined whenever on the field this season, but only played in 10 games after dealing with an abundance of injuries.

McDonald is set to receive $4,318,750 in 2018, which doesn’t help his case. Pittsburgh is hoping to sign Le’Veon Bell to a long-term deal and could make a few roster moves to free up some cap space to do so. McDonald came to Pittsburgh at a bad time as the team was looking to recover from a fail attempt at signing Ladarius Green. Therefore, they likely won’t give McDonald a second chance to stay healthy this offseason.

As loved as Jesse James is in Pittsburgh, the Steelers won’t be looking to make him the only reliable tight end on the roster. Whether or not they’ll use a their third or fourth round pick on an end isn’t known, but chances are they won’t be looking that deep into the draft.

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What they might be considering is signing the Philadelphia Eagles’ third string tight end. Trey Burton only started one game this season, but what he showed in his lone chance is more than enough to take a chance on him.

The 26-year-old finished 2017 with 23 receptions, 248 yards and five touchdowns as the team’s third tight end. Looking to become a free agent after the Super Bowl, Burton will be one of the hottest names on the market for teams looking for a tight end.

In Pittsburgh, he’s the perfect fit. A versatile pass catcher with great speed and reliable hands that make him a playmaker waiting to happen. Being stuck behind Zach Ertz and Brent Celek for the last four years, Burton hasn’t gotten a chance to showcase his ability. So, when teams are looking to bid on him this offseason, he won’t be looking for a major contract, but more of an opportunity to shine.

Burton will get his shot in Pittsburgh. Him and James would be a dynamic duo for the Steelers – James being the protection man with short route ability and a strong redzone threat, and Burton being the deep threat over the middle.

Pittsburgh doesn’t have many moves to make this offseason. For the most part, it’s re-signing players, giving Bell his money and finding an inside linebacker and safety in the draft. Outside of that, the team won’t be focusing on much in free agency, which could push their attention at handing Burton a decent contract to be the “next guy up” at tight end.

Next: Breaking down the Steelers free agency situation

This all depends on their decision with McDonald. But most likely, the Steelers are going to move on, clear some cap space for Bell and look to add a new and young tight end to the mix. If they’re looking to finally find a guy they can make the future of the position, Burton is the best option in years.