When the Pittsburgh Steelers long time tight end Heath Miller retired just this offseason, it was like the whole world stopped. Fans, media outlets, and the entire city of Pittsburgh were truly shocked at this news.
Miller became a fan favorite shortly after coming to the Steel City. His quiet but serious attitude really was the definition of a Pittsburgh Steeler. He retired on February 19th after playing the game for 11 seasons. He caught 592 passes for 6,569 yards and was a two-time Super Bowl winning tight end.
Fast forward a month later to March 10th. San Diego Chargers tight end Ladarius Green was a free agent. The Steelers needed a "veteran" tight end that had an enormous catch radius and could catch the football countless times in a game. The organization found their man in Green and signed him to a four-year, $20 million dollar contract later that afternoon.
Today I want to discuss why this signing was very solid and a valuable pickup for Pittsburgh.
Adds "veteran" tight end depth
Ladarius Green was drafted in the fourth-round of the 2012 NFL draft. The organization had hopes that he could steal the throne from a future Hall of Famer in Antonio Gates. While Gates is an unbelievable force on that offense, Green was just the backup and contributed on the offense when his name was called upon.
For the fans in San Diego, life after Antonio Gates is going to hurt like it did when Heath Miller retired. A reliable tight end for so many years that was your quarterback's security blanket is really hard to lose.
The tight end depth on the Pittsburgh Steelers after the loss of Miller was very weak. A second-year tight end in Jesse James, who did improve all aspects of his game last season after struggling early, was the only legitimate pass catching tight end left on the team. Yes, the organization has veteran TE Matt Spaeth, but in his entire career he has mainly been used as a blocking tight end (though he's been great at it).
When Pittsburgh saw that Ladarius Green was on the free agent market they jumped on a great player that has a "veteran" feel, solid blocking, and explosive speed. It was truly a win-win scenario and made the fans of Pittsburgh less stressed after just losing the most reliable tight end the organization has ever had.
Successful career behind a future H.O.F athlete
There is without a doubt in my mind, and the minds of football fans all over, that tight end Antonio Gates is heading to the Hall of Fame one day. Gates was an undrafted athlete out of Kent State in 2003.
He is an 8-time Pro Bowl player, has countless awards, and stellar statistics. In his career he's caught a total of 844 catches, earning 10,644 yards, and 104 total touchdowns - a tremendous stat line for an undrafted athlete.
When you have that type of leadership and quality on your football team the younger athletes can learn from the veterans. There is no doubt that is what Ladarius Green did. Gates mentored Green for three years and probably learned a lot of valuable traits and factual information.
It is truly special to have been taught the position by a future Hall of Fame tight end. Green is on the right track and so far in his three year career has caught 77 passes for 1,087 yards, and earned himself 7 total touchdowns. The sky is the limit for a tight end just trying to showcase his talent under a high power passing attack in Pittsburgh.
Young, fast, explosive, and ready to contribute
Green is a 26 year-old, 6-foot, 6-inch tight end out of Louisiana-Lafayette College. During his college career he caught 149 passes for 2,201 yards, and earned himself 22 total touchdowns.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a high power passing game but often times struggle in the red zone. When you have a 6'6" tight end that has all the attributes to catch the football, then quarterback Ben Roethlisberger can just throw the ball up and expect Green to come down with it; that is a perk of having a huge tight end with good hands.
Here are two plays that really made the Ladarius Green signing a solid acquisition.
Redzone Threat; a true game changer:
This play is just a glimpse at what Ladarius Green can do when in the redzone. His big body and quickness off the ball will make defenders struggle this season.
Impressive speed; long TD
Back in 2013, Green registered a career long 60 yard touchdown. This year against the Oakland Raiders he registered this 31 yard touchdown. It was a simple crossing pattern and after that he used his impressive speed and awareness to just sneak into the endzone. He will be an exciting player to watch this season.
It should be a truly exciting year with the new addition of Ladarius Green. A true game changing tight end that has great redzone ability and impressive speed to get past defenders. Imagine a healthy Le'Veon Bell added into the mix. The Steelers offense is going to be setting records come September 12th against the Washington Redskins.