TIGHT ENDS – 4
(Free Agent Scorecard: 1 unrestricted – David Johnson)
It was not the kind of season anyone envisioned for Ladarius Green when the Steelers opened their offseason by signing the unrestricted free agent tight end from the San Diego Chargers. Brought here to be the same type of vertical threat he was for the Chargers, Green may have been that for the Steelers as well, but he never was able to spend enough time on the field to develop into the role. Green missed all of the offseason program following ankle surgery, and then he was on the physically unable to perform list from the start of camp until Nov. 11. After that, he appeared in six games during which he had 18 catches for 304 yards (16.9 average) and one touchdown. Green sustained a concussion in the last of those six games – Dec. 18 in Cincinnati – and then was inactive for the final two in the regular season and all three during the playoffs because he was in the concussion protocol. Asked about Green on Jan. 31, Steelers President Art Rooney II said, "I don't think I can shed a lot of light on it, other than that there are some physical conditions that he has that we have to evaluate, that we have to have the doctors evaluate. I think it's another part of the offseason that we have to kind of see where it unfolds."
At 6-foot-4, 261 pounds, Grimble looks good in the uniform, and he also seemed to show improvement over the course of his first training camp with the Steelers. An undrafted rookie who signed with the Giants in 2014, Grimble also has spent time with San Francisco and New England, and he will be 25 years old in September. In 11 games with the Steelers in 2016, he caught 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, but he's going to have to develop more consistency in every aspect of his game if he hopes to see more playing time.
A fifth-round pick in 2015, James has shown steady improvement during his time with the Steelers, but there are questions still about whether he has the combination of abilities necessary to be a true No. 1 tight end in the NFL. That doesn't mean James doesn't belong in the NFL, it doesn't mean he doesn't belong on the field for the Steelers, it doesn't even mean he doesn't deserve to be the team's starting tight end based on the current configuration of the depth chart there. He had 39 catches in 2016, plus another 11 in three playoff games. Those are respectable numbers, but James would be best served if he continues to understand he's going to be one of those guys who has to come to camp every summer and re-earn his spot on the roster and his role within the offense. As long as he embraces that mind-set, he could end up having a nice NFL career.
A seventh-round pick by the Steelers in 2009, Johnson left for San Diego as an unrestricted free agent after the 2013 season but then returned to Pittsburgh via the same route on May 17, 2016. In 98 career NFL games, Johnson has 31 catches for 304 yards and one touchdown, and so his value comes in his blocking. Based on the current depth chart here, there is still a place for a blocking tight end, but Johnson is another of those players who has to make the team every summer. He has embraced that reality so far, which is why he's a nine-year veteran.