Ex-Steelers Tight End Signs with Saints: Report

Nick Vannett

Joe Sargent/Getty Images Tony Jefferson of the Baltimore Ravens breaks up a pass intended for Nick Vannett of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 6, 2019.

On Tuesday the Denver Broncos released tight end Nick Vannett halfway through a two-year contract, saving the Broncos approximately $2.6 million in cash but also saddling them with an $875,000 salary cap charge in 2021. Yet it only took Vannett approximately 24 hours to find a new NFL home. According to Mike Garafolo, reporter for NFL Network, the New Orleans Saints have agreed to sign the former Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks tight end to a three-year contract.

Never mind that the five-year veteran caught just 14 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown last season while appearing in more than half of Denver’s snaps in just two games. That’s hardly the return the Broncos were looking for when they inked him to two-year, $5.7 million contract in March of last year. Even if he is ostensibly a “blocking tight end.”

That’s why one expects that the Saints haven’t truly committed to Vannett for three years. It’s likely that the term is designed to spread out the salary cap hit (and also account for the possibility that Vannett’s tenure in New Orleans is less than successful).

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Nick Vannett’s One-Year Stint with the Steelers

After all, what happened in Denver wasn’t necessarily an aberration, as in 2019 Vannett produced just 13 catches for 128 receiving yards in 13 games with the Steelers, with six of those games being starts. Moreover, his ceiling isn’t that high to begin with, as his most productive NFL season came with the Seahawks in 2018, when he hauled in 29 passes for 269 yards and three touchdowns.

Vannett—6-foot-6, 261 pounds—was acquired by the Steelers in September 2019 in exchange for a fifth-round pick. For the prior three-plus seasons he played for the Seahawks, who made him a third-round pick in 2016 (No. 94 overall) out of Ohio State.

Do the Steelers Have a Need at Tight End?

As for Pittsburgh’s situation at the position, Eric Ebron returns (for at least one more season) as the pass-catching starter. Zach Gentry, a former fifth-round pick out of Michigan who has appeared in just six games in two seasons, is the leading candidate to be Ebron’s backup.

The Steelers also have three developmental tight ends on the offseason roster, so it’s very possible that the team will eschew the position in the upcoming draft in favor of more pressing needs.

Of the three, the leading contender to take the next step and secure a larger role next year is Kevin Rader, who made his NFL debut in Week 17 last year and also appeared in the playoff game against the Browns.

Rader was signed to Pittsburgh’s roster on November 24 of last year after spending the first two-and-a-half months of the season on the practice squad. He also spent the majority of the 2019 season on the Steelers’ practice squad, having first entered the NFL in 2018, signing with the Green Bay Packers as an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State.

Meanwhile, the Steelers will also be giving a longer look-see to Charles Jones II, who was added to Pittsburgh’s practice squad in November after Vance McDonald landed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list. The Tulane University product (who has also spent time with the Jacksonville Jaguars) went on to ink a one-year Reserve/Future deal with the Steelers in January. Also getting another look is Dax Raymond, who was originally signed by the Steelers last summer and is back on a one-year futures contract.

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