Why Steelers Tight End Matt Spaeth is an Undervalued Free Agent Commodity

Whatever else happens, Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth will always go down as the third player picked by Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert in the 2007 NFL Draft. Now pushing 32 and after 8 NFL seasons, Spaeth is about to hit the free agent market again, in search of his fourth NFL contract.

Will Spaeth stay with the Steelers? Let’s take a look.

Capsule Profile of Matt Spaeth’s Career with the Steelers

It is easy to see why the Steelers selected a 6’7” 270 pound tight end in the third round – what quarterback wouldn’t like that target.

And Speath caught touchdowns in his first two NFL games prompting Mike Tomlin to explain that Spaeth was a “fantasy league super star.” Speath would unfortunately get hurt, but in his second game back vs. Denver, he scored another touchdown. After that, Spaeth only had 2 more targets, and one catch during the rest of 2007.

Matt Spaeth, career stats, catches, touchdowns, targets

They don’t throw to him often, but Spaeth can catch.

 

In fact, Spaeth would never have more than 26 total targets in his career despite having a 63% catch rate, or 1% less than Hines Ward at the same age.

But why digress?

Speath dutifully played his first four years with the Steelers, and then took a better offer from the Chicago Bears when he became a free agent in 2011. Spaeth’s defection was somewhat of a surprise to the Steelers.

  • But Kevin Colbert showed no hard feelings.

When Spaeth became a free agent again, he return to the Steelers. A lisfrac injury landed him on IR to start the 2013 season. Spaeth returned for the Steelers loss to Miami. He made one catch for a touchdown vs. Green Bay.

In 2014 Spaeth started the entire year, catching 3 passes on 4 targets including a touchdown (see the trend?), while blocking for Le’Veon Bell.

The Case for Keeping Matt Spaeth

Integerity forces a confession. When the Steelers resigned Matt Spaeth, yours truly immediately emailed friend and colleague Behind the Steel Curtain Editor Neal Coolong, with an incredulous “What?” Coolong, who has sources on the South Side, shared some worrisome inside information which cannot be divulged here.

At some point during the Steelers 0-4 start to the 2013 season, BTSC writer and friend Tony Defeo tweeted, “ No worries Steelers Nation, we’ve got Matt Speath in our back pocket” referring to the Steelers decision to put Spaeth on the reserve return list.

  • The Steelers did activate Spaeth later in the season, but his return was hardly ballyhood.

Instead, something else happened.

Le’Veon Bell rushed for his first 100 yard game, and finished the season rushing for 90 yards. Bell and not Spaeth gets credit for that, but Spaeth’s return did bolster the Steelers blocking.

Really, Matt Spaeth is not going to command a lot of money on the free agent market, and should be an excellent value signing for the Steelers.

The Case Against Keeping Matt Spaeth

The main argument against keeping Spaeth is that the Steelers do need to get younger at tight end and should target the position early in the draft.

Ideally, the Steelers would get a tight end more in the mold of Rob Gronkowski and groom him as Heath Miller’s replacement. In such a scenario, Spaeth can only be in the way.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Matt Spaeth

Really the case against keeping Spaeth is weak. No, he’s no superstar. Yes, Steel Curtain Rising insists that his past performance shows he can be targeted more, especially in the Red Zone. But we’re alone in that belief, and admittedly the sample size is small.

Nonetheless, the Steelers typically keep 3 tight ends on the roster, in addition to a hybrid TE such as Will Johnson or David Johnson before him. Spaeth might not be spectacular, but he is solid and provide excellent bang for the Steelers salary cap buck.

Steelers should resign Matt Spaeth.

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