The Pittsburgh Steelers have 21 players who will be unrestricted free agents when their currents contracts expire March 21, so management has quite a few decisions to make before the roster is set.
Here is a position-by-position look at the current players and what could occur during the upcoming months. This fourth story looks at the fullback and tight ends.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers don't really use a fullback, opting to play multiple tight ends instead, but they have several players who can fill both roles.
Will Johnson is what the Steelers need at fullback. He can block, catch and even run the ball if necessary. Johnson is cheap, too, at $570,000 this year. He will be a restricted free agent in 2015. He had some injury problems this past season that limited his overall playing time, but he still got into 15 games and had eight catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. He had five catches in the final seven games last fall and has two TD catches in two NFL seasons.
Heath Miller, at one time, was among the best tight ends in the league. Some believe he was the best when considering his blocking ability combined with pass-catching. Despite missing two games and coming off reconstructive knee surgery, Miller had 58 catches for 593 yards and one touchdown. The total receptions are more than he had in a full 2011 season and 16 more than he had in 14 games during 2010. He had 34 catches in the final eight games.
However, Miller will be 32 in October and playing in his 10th NFL season. Ben Roethlisberger believes he still rates among the league's best, and no one should question his worth ethic after the way he came back this past season. But Miller is scheduled to make $6.02 million this year and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015. So, the Steelers must make a decision soon.
Matt Spaeth, a solid backup entering his eighth season, missed three-fourths of this past season with a foot injury from training camp. His only catch went for a touchdown, but Spaeth has just 50 total catches and nine scores in 95 career games. That's not enough production to believe he could adequately replace Miller now or in the future. Spaeth will be paid $900,000 this year and become an unrestricted free agent in 2015, so he's playing for a contract as well.
David Paulson is under contract for the next two years, at $570,000 this season and $660,000 in 2015, before becoming an unrestricted free agent. But he hasn't been a trusted pass-catcher and certainly hasn't shown improved blocking skills in two seasons. Some believed the Steelers should have drafted a tight end in 2013, and they certainly could take one early during this year's NFL Draft to be set for the future. They probably won't take a tight end in the early rounds, but from the middle to later rounds is a possibility.
David Johnson, who the Steelers liked in the past, is coming off of two blown seasons due to injuries. He and Michael Palmer, primarily a blocking tight end, are unrestricted free agents this year. Neither is likely to be re-signed.