The Pittsburgh Steelers have two promising young tight ends. But they also have another contributing tight end set to hit free agency in Zach Gentry.
Weeks before hitting the open market, Gentry made it clear that he doesn’t want to go anywhere.
“We’ll see how it all ends up, but I would definitely be happy to remain in Pittsburgh,” said Gentry in an interview with Van Tate of KRQE Sports in Albuquerque.
The 26-year-old tight end also added that that’s what he expects to happen.
“We’ll see. I would be surprised if Pittsburgh didn’t do the necessary things to try to keep me there,” Gentry said. “But, you know, at the end of the day, it’s a business.
“So it really comes down to numbers and feels and fit and all that good stuff that I’m gonna have to put on my agents and stress about in March.”
The Steelers’ Decision at Tight End
In 2022, Gentry was a quality contributor for the second year in a row inside the Steelers offense. He started a career-high 13 games and posted 19 receptions for 132 receiving yards.
Among players with more than 5 targets, Gentry was second on the team in catch percentage. His 82.6% catch percentage was second only to running back Jaylen Warren.
Gentry was a safe, reliable target when called upon, especially for rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. Gentry received 6 of his 23 targets in Pickett’s first start after he had just 3 targets in the first four weeks.
The 26-year-old tight end then averaged more than a target per game the final 12 weeks with Pickett starting most of the rest of the season.
Still, it’s not guaranteed the Steelers will bring back Gentry because they already have two young tight ends.
Pat Freiermuth was second on the team in targets (98) and receptions (63) and third in receiving yards (732) last season. He appears to be on the verge of becoming a Pro Bowl-type player.
Rookie tight end Connor Heyward also came on strongly at the end of the season. He wasn’t very involved in the offense and only caught 12 passes in 2022. But he hauled in a touchdown in a 19-16 victory against the Atlanta Falcons, clinched the win on Christmas Eve on a 21-yard end around late in the fourth quarter and then capped off the campaign with 3 catches for 45 yards in Week 18.
If the Steelers plan for Heyward to have a bigger role in 2023, letting Gentry leave in free agency to open more snaps could be the plan.
What Gentry Brings that Other Steelers TEs Don’t
While he’s been an occasional safety valve, Gentry has never lit up the stat sheet. But he’s been more valuable to the Steelers as a blocker.
Gentry was a Top 5 pass blocker and above average run blocker during 2021 according to Pro Football Focus. His blocking wasn’t as elite this past season, but his pass protection grade seemed to suffer from a few really bad outings.
He had a very good PFF grade in pass blocking in 12 of 17 games during 2022.
Freiermuth is also strong in pass protection, but he’s also becoming a very viable receiving threat. That could leave the pass-blocking tight end role mostly to Gentry next season.
Blocking tight ends don’t get paid much in free agency. The Steelers have under $1 million in cap space as of February 5, and other more important free agents to re-sign. So, it’s not likely the Steelers make Gentry a priority this offseason.
However, if he doesn’t garner much interest from other teams, Gentry returning to the Steelers is still a possibility.
He certain wants to be back.