OK with status quo at safety, tight end ☕


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Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

Even casual fans can look at the Steelers' roster and see deficiencies at the backup safety and tight end positions, but the Steelers seem intent on going to camp July 27 with the players they have at safety and tight end, and only adjusting if needed.

I've spoken to several agents for some of the top remaining players at both positions and they said the Steelers have not been in contact with them about their clients.

"No, not the Steelers," Tony Agnone, the agent for free-agent tight end Ryan Griffin told me this week. "Every other team in the division, but not them."

Part of the problem is that the Steelers are right up against the salary cap, having just $984,968 in available cap space. That's barely enough money to sign a veteran player to a minimum contract. And, given Kevin Colbert likes to have around $3 million in available cap space when the regular season begins, eating up more space on a veteran backup might not be something the team wants to do unless absolutely necessary.

That became the case in 2017 at tight end when the team traded for current starter Vance McDonald at the end of training camp, following what Mike Tomlin called a number of "JV" performances by the team's tight ends during the preseason.

Xavier Grimble, one of those JV performers from two years ago, is the top backup behind McDonald at tight end, with no player with NFL experience behind those two. That's a dicey proposition given McDonald's injury history.

Though immensely talented, McDonald, who just turned 30 earlier this month, has never appeared in more than the 15 games he played for the Steelers in 2018. He did produce 50 catches for 610 yards and four touchdowns, but his rough-and-tumble playing style lends itself to injuries.

With longtime backup Jesse James having left via free agency for Detroit, that leaves Grimble, 2019 fifth-round draft pick Zach Gentry, international player Christian Scotland-Williamson, Kevin Rader and Trevor Wood vying for at least three spots -- two on the active roster and at least one on the practice squad.

The Steelers brought James O'Shaughnessy in for a free-agent visit earlier this year, but he wound up re-signing with Jacksonville for one year at $2.225 million. That's a big salary for a player who had 24 catches for 214 yards and no touchdowns in 2018.

Griffin, a six-year veteran with 136 career receptions for 1,491 yards and seven touchdowns, would seem to be a much more stable option behind McDonald. After all, he has made 36 career starts and appeared in 77 games for the Texans, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2013.

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