Steelers GM: Miller's retirement won't alter offseason strategy, team has options at tight end
February 24, 2016 9:25 PM
Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert speaks today at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS — The Steelers had an inkling tight end Heath Miller would retire after last season. But they didn’t know for sure until tight ends coach James Daniel interrupted a meeting between coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert six days ago.
“He knocked on the door, and, when coach Tomlin saw J.D., he said, ‘Heath’s retiring, isn’t he?’ ” Colbert said. “J.D. said, ‘Yep, he told me last night.’ It wasn’t totally unexpected.”
It isn’t always easy to replace a team’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and touchdowns among tight ends. But the Steelers will attempt to do that, even though Colbert said Wednesday that Miller’s departure doesn’t create a sense of urgency to find a replacement in free agency or the draft.
“We’ll see if we add a veteran [in free agency] or draft a tight end,” Colbert said on the first day of the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “I think both options are on the table right now.”
Colbert said the Steelers took a step toward rebuilding the position last year when they took Jesse James in the fifth round of the draft.
What’s more, he pointed out the Steelers “liked what we saw” of Xavier Grimble, who spent most of last season on the practice squad. Grimble (6-5, 257) played at USC and was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by the New York Giants in 2014. He also spent time on the practice squads of the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots.
“Jesse was someone we felt we could add and develop over time that maybe he would be ready for when Heath steps away, not knowing exactly when Heath would step away,” Colbert said, referring to James, a Glassport native who played at Penn State and South Allegheny High School. “So, now you have a hole, you’re missing a starter and [veteran backup] Matt Spaeth is coming off a minor knee surgery.”
“We still think Matt will be a valuable player for us.”
As far as signing a tight end in free agency or drafting one, “Both options are on the table right now,” Colbert said.
Several tight ends who are unrestricted free agents are expected to be available in free agency. At the top of the list is Dwayne Allen of the Indianapolis Colts, who is the type of tight end the Steelers desire — a good blocker who can also catch. But the latter is not that important to the Steelers, Colbert said, because of the skill players they have at other positions.
“Without Heath, we still have Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton,” Colbert said. “I don’t know how big of a part [tight ends] will play. It depends on their abilities and their ability to contribute within our group. They might contribute more on another team than they would with us because we have some other weapons available.”
Even if Allen becomes available, his price might be too high for the Steelers. Plus, the Arizona Cardinals might try to sign him because their coach, Bruce Arians, was instrumental in drafting Allen when he was the offensive coordinator with the Colts.
Arizona’s current tight end, Jermaine Gresham, also is an unrestricted free agent. Gresham formerly played with the Bengals. Others who could also get to free agency are Green Bay’s Andrew Quarless, San Diego’s Ladarius Green and Chicago’s Zach Miller.
“It’s not a bad group,” Colbert said of the free-agent tight ends. “It’s much like the draft. Every team has a tight end in the NFL. If they have good ones, usually they don’t get away. So, we find out who signs in the next couple of weeks. It might look good right now, maybe there are five or six and once free agency starts [March 9], there may be two or three. So, that can change very quickly whereas the draft, there’s almost a finite number.”
All these options have come into play for the Steelers from the moment Colbert and Tomlin got the knock on the door last Friday. Still, Miller’s retirement wasn’t a shock.
“After 11 years [in the league], all the players you worry about whether they’re reaching that point,” Colbert said. “We knew it was a possibility, but until Friday morning we didnt know it was a certainty.”
Gerry Dulac: email@example.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.
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