With Heath Miller’s surprise retirement, the Steelers gain an additional $4 million in cap space and also save $4.5 in cash (Miller’s 2016 base salary).
Even if Miller had returned, drafting a tight end in round 1 was going to be a possibility, but with Miller now retiring, dipping into the free agent market becomes much more of a priority than the Steelers would have envisioned with 32 year old Matt Spaeth, who has all of six receptions the last three seasons, and second year player Jesse James as the only immediate replacements for Miller.
Here’s a look at the group of tight ends who could hit the open market on March 9.
Coby Fleener (6-6, 250), Indianapolis Colts
27 years old, high pedigree in being a second round pick in 2012. 54 receptions, 491 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2015. With Andrew Luck healthy and under center for the entire 2014 season, Fleener had 51 receptions, 774 yards and 8 touchdowns. 31% of his catches in 2014 went for 20+ yards. Most talented pass catching tight end who is expected to hit the open market but will also be one of the most expensive tight ends despite the inconsistencies in his game. Likely a $5 million a year player on the open market, based on comparables. Doesn’t block well enough to be a guy the Steelers would throw big money at.
Antonio Gates, San Diego Chargers
Will be the Chargers or nobody.
Benjamin Watson (6-3, 255), New Orleans Saints
Had a great season in New Orleans with 74 receptions, 825 yards and 6 touchdowns. Is 35 years old, would be a nice one year option to fill the void in the pass-catching department. Unlikely to leave New Orleans. 13 catches of 20+ yards in 2015.
*Dwayne Allen (6-5, 230), Indianapolis Colts
27 years old. Had 16 receptions for 109 yards and 1 touchdown in 2015. In 2014 Allen had 8 touchdown receptions to go with 29 receptions. 24 of his 29 receptions went for 1st downs in 14. Low cost tight end with touchdown upside that’s already being thrown around as a fit.
*Ladarius Green (6-6, 240), San Diego Chargers
25 years old, 4th round pick in 2012. Career high 37 receptions for 429 yards and 3 touchdowns in 2015. Runs a 4.53 forty and has good foot quickness. 26% of his 77 career receptions have gone for 20+ yards. Player who is still young with upside that should interest Steelers.
Zach Miller (6-5, 240), Chicago Bears,
31 years old and had a breakout year for the Bears with 31 receptions for 439 yards and 5 touchdowns in 15 games. Had an 87 yard reception vs the Rams in week 9. Considered likely to return to Chicago.
Jermaine Gresham (6-5, 260), Arizona Cardinals
27 years old, first round pedigree but his production took a major dip in 2015 with 18 receptions, 223 yards and 1 touchdown due to injuries. Gresham, though, is just a season removed from a 62 catch season with the Bengals in 2014 and could be good value for teams. However, bad knees have limited him to a short-yardage tight end.
Marcedes Lewis (6-6, 275) , Jacksonville Jaguars
31 years old, coming off a big contract. Has not been productive since 2012 season. Had 16 catches for 226 yards and no touchdowns in 2015.
Vernon Davis (6-3, 250), Denver Broncos
The 32 year old is nothing more than name recognition at this point in his career. Vanished in the Broncos offense, finished season (49ers/Broncos) with 35 receptions for 495 yards and 0 touchdowns.
Andrew Quarless (6-4, 250), Green Bay Packers
Played at Penn State, was a 5th round pick in 2010. 27 years old, low upside. 4 receptions for 31 yards in 2015. Had some mildly productive years in 2013 and 2014. Career high 32 receptions in 2013, career high 323 receiving yards in 2014. Type of player you can draft in late rounds.
Garrett Celek, San Francisco 49ers
Not expected to hit the open market as the 49ers and Celek are reportedly close to a long-term extension.
Chase Coffman, Seattle Seahawks
Kellen Davis, New York Jets
Dorin Dickerson, Tennessee Titans
Rhett Ellison, Minnesota Vikings
Daniel Fells, New York Giants
Richard Gordon, Baltimore Ravens
James Hanna, Dallas Cowboys
Clay Harbor, Jacksonville Jaguars
Michael Hoomanawanui, New Orleans Saints
Rob Housler, Chicago Bears
Anthony McCoy, Seattle Seahawks
Tony Moeaki, Atlanta Falcons
Bear Pascoe, Detroit Lions
Logan Paulsen, Washington Redskins
John Phillips, San Diego Chargers
Allen Reisner, Baltimore Ravens
Craig Stevens, Tennessee Titans