Could the Steelers only keep two tight ends on the roster?
By Andrew Falce
While the Steelers almost always keep three tight ends on the roster, the lack of quality options means a third tight end is far from a guarantee.
The Steelers have a clear top option and developmental backup tight end entering training camp. Eric Ebron will resume his role as the top receiving threat at tight end while rookie Pat Freiermuth will try to develop into the top option for the team. Both figure to see heavy playing time, but behind them, the team lacks a true quality tight end option.
The only drafted tight end on this roster, outside of Freiermuth, is Zach Gentry. Competing with him are Kevin Rader and Dax Raymond, both NFL journeymen to this point. Gentry has shown little in terms of development, and besides being a tall body, he offers little to this team. Radar showed some good blocking ability, but he certainly isn’t anything special. Finally, I actually like Raymond a lot, but he has yet to earn a roster spot as a pro.
At the end of the day, none of these players are going to do much on offense, and outside of Radar, who isn’t anything dynamic at special teams, none of these players will be significant contributors there. Looking at the shape of this roster, it really doesn’t make sense for the Steelers to waste a roster spot on one of these players.
None of the Steelers players are worth a spot right now
With the new rules with the practice squad, it would be easy for the team to stash their “third” tight end on the practice squad and call him up when need be. In the meantime, the top two tight ends could man the rotation there, and veteran addition Joe Haeg could chip in as the heavy tight end in running sets. There is little need for one of these options to make the roster outright.
It was one thing if the team added a veteran to be that number three tight end. They could still do that, but their options are dwindling. Now that Jesse James has signed with the Bears, those options are dwindling. Unless a notable name gets released on cutdown days, the Steelers will likely be without a quality option to be that third tight end.
If that wasn’t enough, the Steelers have clearly shifted away from using three tight ends on gameday. Last year, the first game that the team dressed their third tight end (that being Gentry) was week 10. Before that point, the team felt no need to dress Gentry each week. This wasn’t due to him excelling in practice or earning the spot though. During that time, Vance McDonald had been placed on the Covid list. Gentry was dressed only to fill that void, but a practice squad tight end could also fill that role.
At the end of the day, could the Steelers keep a third tight end? Sure, but for what reason? If he won’t dress and/or is only an average special teams’ player, that roster spot could be used for a better overall player. Meanwhile, whatever tight end they deem the best out of the bunch could be stashed on the practice squad. Assuming the team doesn’t add a better option, there is no good reason for a third tight end to be on this final roster.