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Matt Spaeth Injury: Steelers tight end likely to land on IR-Designated to Return list, roster move to come

The Steelers will likely keep TE Matt Spaeth on their 53-man roster, then place him on Injured Reserve-Designated to Return. After that, the team will likely pick up a third tight end who will have been cut from another team.

Vincent Pugliese-USA TODAY Sport

It could be argued, of the several injuries the Steelers suffered this preseason, the toughest one to bear was Matt Spaeth's foot.

The expected absence of Heath Miller was at least some of the reason the Steelers brought Spaeth back to Pittsburgh after serving a two-year stint in Chicago. The Steelers played three (soon to be four) preseason games without either of their top two tight ends. It appears Miller will return first, but it doesn't seem likely that will happen for another few weeks.

Miller will likely be taken off the PUP list and added to the 53-man roster - deadline for teams to submit those is 6 p.m. ET Saturday. Along with those two, the Steelers will have to keep David Johnson and David Paulson, being as the team will need them to play in Week 1.

The NFL's Injured Reserve - Designation to Return list was created in 2012 specifically for injuries like the one to Spaeth, and teams having to make an all-or-nothing decision which benefits neither the player nor the club. Previously, Spaeth could either be carried on the regular season roster even though he isn't likely to be healthy until midseason, or he could be placed on the IR, which puts him out for the entire season.

IR-Designation to Return means a player is eligible to return to the roster at midseason. The trick is that player has to be named to the roster in the first place. So if Spaeth is going to be designated to return, the Steelers will either have to go with two tight ends - Johnson and Paulson - until Miller returns, or they'll keep four tight ends on their 53-man roster and designate Spaeth when they are allowed to do so.

All that being said, it basically means the Steelers will keep four tight ends - Miller, Johnson, Paulson and Spaeth - as part of their final roster, then designate Spaeth, then sign another tight end.

Leonard Pope is available, having recently been released from Chicago. Pope played with the Steelers last year, and with offensive coordinator Todd Haley in both Arizona and Kansas City. That's the easy answer.

After him, though, the Steelers will scan the rest of the final cuts from every other team, and likely scoop up a new player. That's not to say it won't be Pope, but the situation is advantageous to the Steelers in the sense they likely are looking for a back-up behind Johnson and Paulson (in that order). Considering the variety of different ways a tight end can be used in the NFL, there's bound to be a role-specific tight end available at a moderate price.

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