Discounting their 2014 draft picks and prospective undrafted players, the Pittsburgh Steelers have just 27 players signed past this season.
And six were selected during last year's NFL Draft.
PITTSBURGH -- At one time, the tight end position was the deepest on the Steelers roster. They had the best combination of pass-catching and blocking ability in Heath Miller, and massive Matt Spaeth was a talented backup.
But Spaeth left after the 2010 season, and Miller was injured at the end of 2012. Another backup with promise, David Johnson also was injured before the 2012 season, and due to another injury last year he has played just five games in the past two seasons.
Spaeth returned prior to last season, but he was injured during training camp and played just the final four games. Miller missed just two games, but it took him a while to get going. And David Paulson, a seventh-round pick in 2012, has just 13 receptions for 153 yards and no touchdowns in two NFL seasons.
Miller is still considered to be among the league's best, but he'll turn 32 during the season and certainly is on the downside in his career. There's no indication that Spaeth will ever be more than a capable backup, and Paulson is a poor blocker -- a necessary skill in the Steelers offense. The Steelers also acquired Michael Palmer in training camp after Spaeth was injured and re-signed him this year, because he is an excellent blocker.
Still, the Steelers could secure a tight end for the future from this year's NFL Draft. It probably won't be early during the three-day event, but a middle-round selection could be used on a tight end. Miller's contract was restructured to make some cap room, and he now is signed through 2016. Paulson has two years remaining on his rookie deal, but Spaeth, Palmer and Bryce Davis are only signed through this season. So, securing future depth wouldn't be a bad idea.
Miller was scheduled to cost $9.5 million against the cap this year, but the renegotiation knocked that down to $6.1 million with base salaries of $4 each in 2015 and '16. Only another injury would prevent the Steelers from retaining Miller at least through his current contract.
The club likes Spaeth, primarily because he is a solid player and good teammate, but if a more productive one is drafted this year could be his last with the Steelers. He will make $900,000 this year and needs to have a big year to add seasons and money to the current contract.
Paulson signed a four-year, $2,145,896 contract as a rookie. The deal included a $45,896 signing bonus. He is scheduled to make $570,000 this year and $660,000 in 2016. Unless he makes a huge jump in performance, he might not even finish his current contract. Palmer's contract is for $730,000 this year, and Davis will make $420,000.