“Rivers to Gates” has been one of the most iconic phrases uttered by sportscasters and San Diego Chargers fans alike over the past decade. The duo hold the record for most quarterback to tight end touchdowns in NFL history with 77 as well as the record for most yards with 8,155. Gates recently signed a two-year contract extension this offseason to ensure that he will finish his career as a Charger. This came as no surprise as Gates and General Manager Tom Telesco seemed eager to reach a deal as quickly as possible.
This, however, left one young tight end by the name of Ladarius Green in a troubling situation. Green had been the “back-up” tight end for the first four years of his NFL career and was considered to be the one to fill Gates’ shoes when he eventually retires. Green would enter games every now and then to keep defenses on their toes as well as whenever Gates was unavailable to play.
Green’s physical abilities were never in question as his size and speed proved to be consistently difficult to defend, but between some dropped passes and limited targets, he could never get the consistent playing time he truly desired. His contract with the Chargers was over after the 2015 season and with Gates being inked to be the main guy at the position for two more years, Green decided that it would be best if he took his talents elsewhere to find a more consistent role.
With Heath Miller now retired after his 11th season as the Steelers TE, it was time for Pittsburgh to find his replacement. They decided to take a chance on Green to add to what is possibly the most potent offense in the NFL.
Green will be featured much more in Pittsburgh than he ever was in San Diego, however, it’s doubtful that he suddenly becomes Big Ben’s favorite target. Even ignoring the breakout season of speedy receiver Martavis Bryant, The Steelers still have one of the best wide receivers and running backs in football: Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
While it’s safe to say that the bulk of the Steelers offense will rest upon the shoulders of those two players, the addition of Green could undoubtedly give opposing defenses yet another dangerous weapon to worry about. Miller was something to always keep an eye on, but he had not scored more than three touchdowns in a season since 2012 and was not a player that other teams would have to build their defensive game plan around.
Ladarius Green, while not as big and strong as Miller, is extremely fast for his size. He is 6′ 6″, 240 pounds and has been called “the fastest tight end in the league.” It’s apparent that defenses will have an agonizing time attempting to cover all of the speed that Pittsburgh possesses. His multiple drops in 2015 were, indeed, a cause for concern, but with more consistent playing time and opportunities Green could be a true star in Pittsburgh.
So with the player that many thought to be Antonio Gates‘ successor now out of the picture, The Chargers must begin searching for a new tight end. Free agency is always a possibility. Though, with Philip Rivers and Gates’ career coming to an end in the near future, it may behoove The Chargers to seek help in the tight end position through the draft and start fresh.
General Manager Tom Telesco will more than likely not begin his tight end search in this years draft. However, the draft class of 2017 or 2018 could be an option for him to take a tight end in the early rounds. The Chargers have a history of having offensively productive tight ends may be inclined to keep that tradition alive. While it is possible they will be able to find a free agent or someone waiting on the practice squad that is ready to contribute immediately, Telesco will more than likely go through the draft and hope that whoever he picks can be somewhere between half as talented as Gates, and twice as productive as Green.