2017 Offseason Questions: Would Steelers Have Dealt With TE Differently In Hindsight?

The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.

And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.

Question: Would the Steelers have handled the tight end position in the offseason differently if they knew Ladarius Green would fail his physical?

Armchair general managers—including myself—have been up in arms over the past few days about the Steelers’ decision not to address the tight end position in free agency or in the 2017 NFL Draft while knowing that there was uncertainty surrounding the future of Ladarius Green, their 2016 splash free agency signing.

The team, of course, released him last week, and now many are wondering why in the world they wouldn’t have done more to address the tight end position when they had options to choose from. The only additions have come in the form of a pair of undrafted free agents in Scott Orndoff and Phazahn Odom, neither of whom are currently in a position to make the case that they deserve a roster spot over the top three currently on the depth chart.

Among the tight ends who were available in free agency this year were Martellus Bennett, Jared Cook, and Jack Doyle. In the draft, they had a bevy of options in the fourth round to choose from, which is a topic that I already covered.

There is plenty of discussion about what they could have done, and even what they should have done, but the question now is about what they would have done if they had the foresight to recognize that Green would not be in the picture.

I keep going back to the fact that the first thing Art Rooney II mentioned during a radio interview about what he was looking to accomplish on Day Three of the draft was the tight end position. Gerry Dulac and Jeremy Fowler both also mentioned names the Steelers would have liked to have taken in the draft at certain spots.

Would they have been more aggressive, as they were with the running back position, in making sure to get the player they were looking for if they knew Green would be gone? Or did they truly have comfort in the three players that they already have, such that they felt they didn’t have to deviate from their board?

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • pittsburghjoe

    So if they did not know about the concussion issue when they signed him and they had no idea he would fail his physical, the organization has a glaring management gap that needs evaluated and addressed. I think they knew about the later and whiffed on TE’s in the draft.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    It is hard for me to think the FO had no idea that Green was in the shape he was in but I also cannot believe it was not addressed in the draft. This situation really baffles me. Maybe Matt was correct in thinking that the FO felt content at the position where they did not need to force a pick.

  • Paddy

    Not many options available to them in free agency or draft, considering their needs at LB & CB. Ju Ju’s pick in the third helped quite a bit because Bryant hasn’t been given full reinstatement.

  • Conserv_58

    I fully expected the Steelers to select a TE in this draft for three key reasons: (1) Ladaruis Green was still not officially cleared to play by the time the draft rolled around. I had zero faith that he would make through OTA’s uninjured, let alone training camp. Seeing the Steelers cut him now only exacerbates the frustration of trying to understand why they didn’t draft one. (2) This draft was the deepest it’s been in recent memory at the position. (3) Jessie James is not a #1 TE and his having the league’s lowest YAC numbers confirms that to be true. Jessie can improve on his strength & conditioning, his hands and his route running, but he’s never going to get any faster. He runs at the speed of sloth. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again, most TE’s YAC numbers are measured in yards. Jessie’s YAC numbers are measured in centimeters.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Haven’t read the article yet but will.
    To me, this is a ‘Duh’ question – of course they should have treated TE differently.
    But it’s all good – instead of taking Butt they have their ‘3rd string QB of the future’!! 😐

  • John Bennett

    Doubting that the Steelers front office and medical staff knew what they were doing going into the draft, and how they addressed the teams needs, is a fools errand. The picks of JJSS and Holba now make a lot more sense than they did at the time. R….E….L….A….X..people.

  • John Pennington

    Is Severin frame big enough to add weight and muscle to become a tightend.He is big enough and has speed and play in the middle of the field like Green.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    Juju is a second rounder Sutton was 3rd.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    No.not even close.

  • Jaybird

    If the steelers knew Warren was busted up and went out and drafted Holba, then why wouldn’t they know Green’s status before the draft? I would think the Steelers keep tabs on all their injured players from the year before , no? It seems crazy to me to think that the Steelers did not know in advance that Green was done before the draft. That being said I have no idea why they did not take a TE in the draft ( Kittle/Butt) .

  • John Pennington

    Disagree

  • Dave

    Real simple, Warren was upfront and in open communication with the team. They way he left, under contract also gives him benefits after his release. But Green was evasive and dishonest from the start. The team was probably mislead up until the physical this past week. These two situations played out completely opposite. While I was hoping for a TE in the draft too, I don’t think I’d want to change any of the picks even with hindsight. Dobbs has more upside than Jones. Holba should be our snapper for the next decade. Allen and Adams look to be potential sleeper picks that eventually become solid situational players or even starters. If Ben gets hurt late season we have little chance of a Lombardi with Jones at the helm. He’s a decent stopgap leader but we probably weren’t going to win three straight post-season games with him. Dobbs mobility and ability to learn fast gives us a little better chance or at least another viable option.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    How could they NOT know Greens status? Seems highly unlikely that they’re paying this guy $20M and wouldn’t have a weekly update all thru the offseason.

    Clearly stated, this was a miss by the Steelers. When you get into signing players who may or may not be able to play, you enter a world of a balancing act. The Steelers seemingly handled it incorrectly the whole way – first guessing he’d be healthy for 2016, and then guessing he’d be healthy for 2017.

    Wrong on both accounts and now, much like with the CB position, they’re left with table scraps.

    Unless Juju is going to essentially sub in at the TE position, which I could see now.

  • Jaybird

    But doesn’t the Steelers medical team keep in touch with these guys when they are injured ? Even in the offseason ? They should have known he still was not ready to play ball. I think the Steelers got burned once by this guy, I can’t see getting burned again this offseason and not knowing his health status before the draft.

  • mem359

    Warren’s situation was physical, and unlikely to ever improve.
    Concussions are a lot trickier.
    We have Crosby as an example of someone who has sometimes been out months, sometimes only days.

    There were 3 TE selected before the Steeler’s 1st pick, and another 2 before their 2nd pick. Might have changed their draft if there was more TE talent available when it was their turn.

  • Jaybird

    I agree totally with you . And I also think that JuJu will pick up a lot of the slack left by Greens’ departure.

  • Jaybird

    Yes I think the way the draft went it certainly affected the Steelers selections- it always does. But I still think the Steelers knew this guy was damaged goods or could not be counted on to stay healthy an entire year. Just like with Bryant – they have safety nets in place in case he slips up – they got Hunter ( doubt he makes the team ) and JuJu. I just think the Steelers knew Green was done but there were no TE s available that were good selections were they picked ( unless you think we should have gone Butt or Kittle in the 4th) . I think they were comfortable rolling with what we already have.

  • Brian Miller

    Well said, I agree.

  • The difference between a ‘Jesse James or Grimble’ in peak condition vs a healthy Ladarius Green or one of this draft’s better TE athletes–including those available to us in the 4th round–is that our current TE’s are serviceable and able to produce if defenses key heavily on our other weapons like AB, Bell, Rogers or others. Unfortunately, our TE’s don’t have the speed, agility, or dominant physiques needed to consistently bust coverages or overwhelm defenders physically due to athletic mismatch. Their [pass] production might improve if MB returns to his pre-suspension form and Juju is as good as advertised–since secondaries could need to give safety help to corners covering MB and AB, leaving LBs to cover TE,s. With a speedy TE, this usually couldn’t happen.

  • Big Joe

    While it is possible, I do not believe they would have. There were a lot of reasons why we lost the AFCC game, but our lack of WR threats, RB depth, depth in pass rush, and secondary depth and scheme were major contributors. They had their marching orders to fix the pass rush and find quality WR depth. They did that. I think S, ILB, and move TE will be what they pursue next year. For now, they’ll have to make do and leverage the WRs to really put pressure on the slot

  • Craig M

    And I wonder if they are searching European Football/ Canada for a viable TE, for the present.

  • walter

    You would think they would have a feel for Green after talking with him last season. Im nobody and I suspected he wouldnt last through training camp so you would think that they would have noticed it too. But we really dont know what part of his body failed the physical. We dont really know if he failed the physical at all. It may just be the way the Steelers decided to part ways with Mr. Green. I would think the Steelers had to have known that they couldnt depend upon Green. That had to have realized his dishonesty. Im not sure why they didnt draft a replacement. Looking back on the draft, where would they have picked up a TE? they needed an OLB and Watts was still there., They may have been worried about Bryant when they went WR in the 2nd. They needed CBs and they wanted Conner. They also wanted Dobbs in case Ben retires. And they needed a LS.

  • Big Joe

    Certainly possible

  • walter

    Yep I think they had to know. I think they whiffed too.

  • From Green’s interviews and comment to the media since he came here, I suspect you’re spot-on right in your initial take.

  • walter

    I agree Green was evasive and dishonest. Those are not good traits. Do you want a dishonest person in your family? Do you want to work with one? Of course not. Yes I understand its a money grab for Mr Green. But I wasnt brought up that way. They had a lot of money invested in him but I think the Steelers just had enough of it. But at what point that happened, I dont know.

  • walter

    I can understand not giving the media anything but if he was not truthful with his employer, i can understand his release. I would get fired in a heartbeat if I outright lied to my boss.

  • cencalsteeler

    I don’t think so. It’s just like the ILB position. They’re obviously comfortable with Vince moving forward and I’d have to say they feel the same with James. I’m a fan of JJ and I think patience is what fans need to have when it comes to his development. He’s only 22 and has improved his game quite a bit since climbing on board. Plus, I’d say the Steelers insurance policy was with Ju Ju. Green wasn’t brought in for his blocking ability, it was more for taking the top off of the D and exposing the middle of the field. Ju Ju can do just that, so I really don’t think the sky is falling when it comes to the TE position.

  • cencalsteeler

    In JJs defense, the Steelers don’t really use the TE’s like most teams do. Alot of TEs are a big part of the offenses receiving corps, while the Steelers tend to utilize them more for blocking. One doen’t need to look too far to see evidence, lol. Look who sits behind JJ, Grimble and DJ.

  • walter

    They would like to have someone that can catch and block, like Heath. They just have not been able to obtain his replacement.

  • Ace

    I circle back to the Dobbs pick. That is where I would have targeted a TE. I have no issues with t he first 4 picks, all of them were slotted appropriately IMO. Some say Conner was a reach. I think they got a workhorse back who has tons of on field experience being the bell cow. He can catch, block and run in and out. He has great character. He’s not just a scat back that can only handle 5 carries. I think Dave showed him as the third most explosive back in the draft. Of course, some of that has to do with the volume of carries he got, but still. But Dobbs, he gonna sit for at least 2 years, since Landry just signed a chep deal and there would be no reason to get rid of him. I think that position could have been pushed out til next year. Guys who could have been had instead of Dobbs have been listed but again, Butt, Kittle, Sprinkle, Leggett, Hodges, all perfect guys for the PS. Maybe only Sprinkle or Butt could have been a #1, and who knows what their thought process was during that round. I think that will prove to be the biggest gaffe by the PS. But part of me thinks maybe they are comfortable with the TE group they have without Green. All those receivers and with the best pass catching back in the nfl, and considering they got to the AFCCG without a true move TE makes them think that wasn’t a big priority. Ben can only throw so much, would a first round pick really get that many looks?? Man so hard to tell.

  • Jimbo

    Whiff…….

  • mokhkw

    DB talked about this on the podcast after Green was released. We all know his knowledge of this sort of thing is as good as anyone’s you can find but even he isn’t sure if the teams are allowed contact with players from the exit meetings to the OTAs. He said he is going to ask an agent what the rules are concerning that.

    As DB also pointed out, this isn’t the only player who has been released due to a failed medical once OTAs started up for other teams so I’m guessing that the answer will be “no”. Seems really strange if that is indeed the case, the teams play these guys big $s but they can’t check in on the health of their investments? Maybe this is a case of Warren being upfront but Green wasn’t because he didn’t have to be?

    Seems to me that all an NFL team can do with a player who ends the season injured is to re-check them again in OTAs. I imagine it’s got something, somewhere to do with the Injury Settlements but don’t ask me what that is…..

  • Matt Manzo

    Interesting thought! AV could show him how to add the weight!

  • Matt Manzo

    Kittle is the only name that I keep coming back to. And maybe they see too many similarities in he and JJ? And wanted more of an athletic guy. I keep thinking they’re banking on a pre season trade or waiver wire to find a poor mans Green.
    Like I said before, I think they have more faith in Jesse than they do in Landry. Hence, Dobbs over Kittle.

  • francesco

    I find no fault with James or Grimble.
    I believe both have not yet reached their potential. Green was a bonus in my mind but an unreliable one at that.
    I would not have picked a TE in this draft regardless. However I would have taken serious consideration if Njoku was still on the board at 1.30

  • John Pennington

    He is tall and can stretch the field if his body can handle a little weight and get stronger no reason why he can’t do the job would give Ben another wr who can play across the middle with speed.Better than Grumble faster than James.

  • John Pennington

    Think outside the box it would work.Have you watched his tape before you say he couldn’t do the job and play the position.He can and will stretch the field and use his body against lb and DBS watch his tape.

  • John Pennington

    I agree he is tall strong fast plays across the middle with a big body..Some players could be out of position if given a chance he could grow into the position but in the mean time he could help stretch the field.

  • LucasY59

    doubt it, they already knew Green was unhealthy, so If they wanted to draft a TE they wouldve done it (I dont neccessarily agree with their decision, and the release of Green makes it look even worse) but I do think they should be ok at the TE position (the PS guys could end up being good TEs so the 5 guys they have are enough) as long as they stay healthy (so I can see why they did not draft a TE, even if they knew it was unlikely that Green would be able to play)

  • John Pennington

    You are right.If the team can take a dlineman make him into a offense lineman why not take a big wr make him into a TE.Just saying use the talent you have.

  • TrappenWeisseGuy ;

    I find it hard to believe that the team would have had their head in the sand to the point that they wouldn’t have foreseen the possibility of Green failing his physical. But on the other hand they didn’t do enough due diligence on him in the first place….

  • Matthew Marczi

    I agree that they should have, but should and would are different questions. Of course, we don’t know the answer to the ‘would’ question…

  • Matthew Marczi

    They’ve had Warren for over a decade and were there for his ACL tears with their team doctors. They knew his knees were gradually becoming more degenerative. For Green, they hadn’t been able to test him since the end of the season. Definitely different in terms of their relationship with the player and the nature of the issue at hand.

  • Matthew Marczi

    They can’t force a player to take a physical in the offseason. It’s part of their contract and the CBA. Nothing is mandatory until minicamp.

  • PaeperCup

    they don’t use James like other tes. But, Look at what they did with someone of Greens type.

  • Dennis Wright

    I think the Steelers were well aware of Ladarius Green’s potential to fail his physical and I doubt they were going to put themselves in a position to be burned in consecutive offseasons by him. I think they may have saw a chance to get out of his contract and given the shaky nature of his concussion situation and took it. Has anyone considered the possibility that they may just be content with their TE situation right now with James, Grimble, and Johnson? They got a chance to see those three pretty often last year any it could be that they are comfortable with what they saw and want to give them a chance to develop some more.

  • walter

    This is a crazy thought but if Hawkins works out at OT, could we use AV as a TE? He was a WR at one time wasnt he? Can you imagine the possibilities if he can catch?

  • Paddy

    Thanks

  • treeher

    They knew of course that Green was a risk. All I can surmise is that they didn’t think anyone in the draft would have improved the options they already had.

  • treeher

    And Heath ran the 40 in ??? Answer is 4.87 and in his later years it was probably 5.87 or worse.. JJ’s best time (Pro Day) was 4.66. Ain’t bad for 6’7″ and 260+. The pro game will slow down for him and he’ll speed up.

  • Ralph Wagner

    Have no fear, I’m sure Haley has a plan. LOL.

    Go Steelers

  • Steel Realist PAul

    But that doesn’t mean they don’t, right? They still communicated and injured players are still getting treatment and connecting with the team in acceptable ways, no?

  • Conserv_58

    That’s true, but the signing of Green was a departure from what has been their prototypical ideal for what they value in a TE. That signing was glaringly obvious as to how they viewed J.J. and his lack of speed.

  • Conserv_58

    Please. J.J.’s YAC numbers are the lowest in the league for a reason and it has little to do with his still being young and learning the pro game. Watching him in a game only proves that, so far, his 4.66 speed has yet to materialize in any meaningful way.

  • Conserv_58

    On the contrary, AV had to learn how to add the weight. That falls on the team’s nutritionist and strength coach.

  • Conserv_58

    I think the Steelers may have been a bit gullible and thus bit, hook, line and sinker, on Green’s excuse that his chronic headaches were the result of a sinus condition that resulted in his having sinus surgery to fix the problem. IMO, It was Green’s tongue in cheek dishonesty, the Steelers gullibility and their failure to put him through a battery of tests to insure that it was his sinuses and not his previous concussions that were the root cause of his headaches.

  • Conserv_58

    Your answer is to go and read the CBA for clarification.

  • treeher

    While he certainly is in the mode of Matt Spaeth, I think he’ll continue to improve. No one says he’s a premier TE but he’s proved to be reliable for what the teams asks of him. Hell, I wanted a TE in the draft myself. But the actual draft tells me that they have less confidence in Jones as a back-up QB than they have worries about the tight end.

  • shawn carter

    I believe they were targeting the Miami Hurricanes tight end in the first but the Brown blew that plan up by trading into the spot ahead of them

  • Steel Realist PAul

    That’s fair.