Steelers may have a slight quandary if Pat Freiermuth is true to his word

The Steelers could be in an awkward situation someday if Pat Friermuth is sincere in wanting to remain with the Steelers
Jan 15, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam (24) tackles
Jan 15, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills cornerback Kaiir Elam (24) tackles / Kirby Leei-USA TODAY Sports

Pat Freiermuth was the steal of the 2021 draft for the Steelers. Everyone thought the Steelers would draft a center with their 2nd selection, and surprisingly, they took a tight end. He has since turned out to be a magnificent replacement for underrated Heath Miller, who had already retired after the 2015 campaign. Compared to their first three seasons, Freiermuth has more reception yards than Miller, and his numbers could only improve with Russell Wilson or Fields as the quarterback for the Steelers.

As the 2024 off-season kicked off in March, one burning question remained. Freiermuth is entering the final season of his contract. Will he test the free agency waters, potentially leaving the Steelers, or will he extend his stay with a new contract at the end of this year?

Well, Freiermuth has recently given fans insight as to his intentions. Per Freiermuth, he wants to retire as a member of the Steelers. Not every player in the NFL vehemently displays their intentions, but that’s a plus for Steelers fans who had hopes Freiermuth would stick around for a long time. 

If Freiermuth sincerely intends to remain in Pittsburgh, he could become one of the Steelers' greats when his career finally ends. It's debatable, but all indications point to one undeniable conclusion: He could be another Steelers icon. If that is his destiny, it puts the Steelers in an interesting predicament of what to do with his jersey when his career ends.

What the Steelers might do with old number 88

Old-school fans will argue that the Steelers should never have reissued number 88 when Lynn Swann retired, and others might argue that about number 82 as well. In any case, neither were. Then, when Freier joined the Steelers in 2021, he was the next in line to don number 88.

It's debatable whether Freiermuth is better than Heath Miller, and indeed, Miller was overly underrated. He had excellent blocking ability, and while he didn't have the game-breaking ability of a tight end like Travis Kelce. Miller did bail Ben Roethlisberger out in many clutch situations throughout his career.

Freiermuth, perhaps not a Travis Kelce, is still reliable with those over-the-middle 20-yard snags, which also helped Kenny Pickett out on a few plays before his eventual trade. It will be fascinating to see if Freiermuth improves this season, and there is no credible reason to doubt he couldn't. It's not beyond the pale; he could post a 1000-yard receiving yard season.

Sure, it is still speculative, but Freiermuth is one of the NFL's top five or ten tight ends and can only get better. So, if he is true to his word and he goes on and plays for the Steelers for 10-15 seasons, what might the Steelers finally do with number 88?

If Freiermuth’s situation plays out as we hope, the Steelers will undoubtedly need to recognize his significance to the team, and it is plausible they will finally semi-retire number 88. Many long-time Steelers fans will say such a choice was long overdue. If they do, fans have the option of choosing which player they give credit for wearing it.

If they ever decide to retire the number permanently, well, then there it gets a little thorny. In a formal retirement ceremony, would it be for Swann or Freiermuth? Another possibility is that they could take the unprecedented step of recognizing both greats in a retirement ceremony.

In any event, Pat Freiermuth has much football in him before the tank is empty, so this question will need to wait for 6-10 seasons yet. If this is a debate we have in a decade or so, fans should consider themselves fortunate.