PITTSBURGH -- There's no way around it: Ladarius Green's four-year, $20-million contract will go down as one of the Pittsburgh Steelers' worst free-agency signings. That's not Green's fault, of course. The ankle surgery in 2016 affected his speed even after he returned to full health. Concerns over concussions followed him to Pittsburgh, then eventually followed him out of town after a Week 15 hit sidelined him. He never had a chance to maximize his enormous potential.
Now, with no Green and no tight end draft picks (the latter a surprise), the Steelers must regroup.
Here's the new depth chart:
1. Jesse James (6-foot-7, 261 pounds, 22 years old): He doesn't have spectacular speed but he's growing in the offense, as evidenced by his 10 catches for 131 yards in the team's past two playoff games. Not a dynamic blocker but good enough.
2. Xavier Grimble (6-4, 261, 24 years old): His role just got more important. Grimble caught 11 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns but was hampered by a rib injury late in the year. Grimble is still learning on the job. He has a build like a power forward and is a eager blocker.
3. David Johnson (6-2, 260, 29 years old): The trusted run-blocker should be heavily involved as the Steelers offense turns to Le'Veon Bell.
4. Undrafted free agents Scott Orndoff (6-4, 253, 23 years old) and Phazahn Odom (6-8, 251, 22 years old): Long shots to make the 53-man roster just got a bit shorter for these relative unknowns.
The obvious choice for more snaps is James, who understands the nuances of the offense. His ceiling is probably a bit lower than Green's was, but the Steelers are totally comfortable with him. Ben Roethlisberger seems to trust him. Expect 40-50 snaps per game for James.
Grimble will need to mature into his role in a hurry. The free agency route is an option with a veteran such as Gary Barnidge or Tim Wright, though the Steelers probably prefer what they have at this point.
Another option: Go three or four receivers wide and get crazy. Martavis Bryant is similarly lanky to Green and can provide the same field-stretching function. The Steelers could use Antonio Brown, Bryant, slot receiver Eli Rogers and a fourth receiver in an arrangement of misdirection plays without a tight end.
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