The Steelers have some very important decisions to make at the tight end position this year. Here’s why their depth could be razor-thin heading into 2020.
In 2018, the tight end position was far from a weakness for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Vance McDonald flourished a pass-catching option, while Jesse James was a reliable inline blocker who rarely got injured. Even Xavier Grimble proved to be a solid competitor as the team’s third option at tight end.
Fast forward a year, and the Steelers are in a very different situation. While McDonald remains with the team, he is coming off perhaps the worst year of his 7-year career. McDonald rated out as just the 71st tight end out of 72 eligible players with an overall season grade of just 45.2.
The former 49er is still under contract for two more seasons, but he is a candidate to be cut this year. McDonald is due over $7.1 million each of the next two years, and Pittsburgh could save over $12 million between 2020 and 2021 if he were to be let go.
Nick Vannett, the Steelers number two tight end in 2019, is set to hit free agency this year. Vannett’s year wasn’t much to ride home about either. The fourth-year player caught just 13 passes and was rated the 69th best tight end in 2019, according to PFF. Vannett is an unrestricted free agent this year, and the Steelers could lose him if they don’t make an offer soon.
Zach Gentry was Pittsburgh’s third tight end this year, but he was rarely deployed. The former fifth-round draft choice dressed for just 4 games and saw just 5 percent of the Steelers offensive snaps this season – most of which came before Vannett was on the team.
The Steelers have some difficult decisions to make regarding the tight end position this offseason. Do they re-sign Vannett? Does McDonald become a cap casualty? Is Zach Gentry capable of stepping into a number two role next season?
With all of the mystery surrounding the position, there is little doubt that the Steelers will seek help elsewhere before next year. There are several viable options in free agency, and a tight end is often mocked to Pittsburgh in early draft predictions.
Regardless of what they decide to do, few teams are in a worse way at the tight end position than the Pittsburgh Steelers right now. With Vance McDonald set to be overpaid and Nick Vannett possibly hitting the market, this team will need to do something to improve this positional group heading into next year.