The Steelers are usually pretty quiet during free agency. They typically place all of their focus on signing their own players. But sometimes they surprise their fans by picking up a free agent from another team.
last year the Steelers picked up Jericho Cotchery from the Jets. This year they’ve signed tight end Leonard Pope from the Kansas City Chiefs. Pope played for Todd Haley, the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator, when he was with the Chiefs. That means that he’s familiar with Haley’s offensive system and terminology. But more importantly, it means that Todd Haley believes that he’s a player who can help the Steelers. You don’t really think that the Steelers signed him without talking to Haley, do you? In fact, as offensive coordinator, Haley likely asked the team to go and get Pope.
Pope was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 3rd round of the 2006 NFL Draft. He played for the Cardinals for his first 3 seasons in the NFL before moving to the Chiefs in 2009.
Pope is only one year younger than Heath Miller. He brings a lot of NFL experience to the Steelers. His 102 career receptions are far less than Heath Miller’s 337. However, it’s far more than David Johnson’s 18, or Weslye Saunders’ 4.
Pope is also a very different type of tight end than David Johnson. Johnson, who was the #2 tight end on the team last year, was used primarily as an H-back (a tight end who plays fullback) in Bruce Arians’ offense. So Johnson is short, quick, and he delivers devastating blocks. Pope, on the other hand, is tall. He’s 6’8″. And we all know that Ben Roethlisberger likes big targets. So hopefully, Pope will turn out to be the red zone threat that Matt Spaeth never became.
It’s unclear how the Steelers plan to use their tight ends next season. If they no longer plan to use an H-back, then David Johnson will likely not make the roster. And if they plan to use more multiple tight end formations like the New England Patriots have done, then we should see a healthy competition between Saunders and Pope in training camp.
I can’t wait to see what type of offense Todd Haley plans to use. Without knowing that, it’s impossible to know which of the Steelers’ backup tight ends has the advantage. It’s also impossible to guess how many tight ends the Steelers are actually going to need.
One thing is certain though. Training camp just got a lot more interesting.