Breaking down the Steelers: Tight ends/receivers

Breaking down the Steelers: Tight ends/receivers

The 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers intrigued us, made us smile and surprised even their harshest critics. <br><br> Ultimately, however, they disappointed.

But there is plenty to be excited about for next season. The core of the team is under contract for next season and the Steelers will open the 2005 season as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

This will be a position-by-position look at the Steelers from 2004.

Today:, The wide receivers/tight ends.

Perhaps the biggest question facing the Steelers this offseason is what will they do with free agent Plaxico Burress?

Placing the franchise tag on Burress would give the team extra time to negotiate a new deal with their 2000 first-round draft pick. But they would then have to pay him the average salary of the top 10 receivers in the league if they are unable to work out a long-term deal.

They could franchise him in the hopes of gaining some extra time to work out a deal and then pull the designation if they can't work something out, but that's unlikely. Plus, slapping the franchise tag on Burress would automatically up the ante on what they would have to offer Hines Ward, whose contract the team has promised to rework, even though he still has a year remaining. Make no mistake, Ward wants to be paid more money than Burress and vice versa.

Burress is a weapon, but he's not a player who can't be replaced.

Ward remains a solid blocker and topped 1,000 yards receiving for the team-record fourth consecutive season. But he's a possession receiver. He's a good possession receiver, but he's not a gamebreaker.

If Burress is allowed to leave, the Steelers need to replace him with a player who can go deep to keep defenses honest.

Antwaan Randle El showed some promise when Burress missed six games with a hamstring injury and looks to be coming into his own as a player. But Randle El will be a free agent after the 2005 season, which could push him out of the Steelers' price range.

The Steelers definitely need to address the position in the draft.

Lee Mays finally showed some flashes of being a legitimate NFL receiver somewhere other than on the practice fields at St. Vincent College. But he's also a restricted free agent and the Steelers won't give him a high tender meaning he could sign elsewhere.

Sean Morey spent the entire season on the active roster and was supposed to be a special teams ace, something he didn't show a lot of. He was OK on special teams, but not the spectacular player he was sold as when the Steelers picked him up off waivers in training camp. Plus, he's not a legitimate NFL receiver, making his roster spot tenuous.

Zamir Cobb is an interesting prospect who could make an impact in 2005. Cobb was tearing up training camp - and seemed to have a nice thing working with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in training camp - when he suffered a knee injury that ended his season. Cobb isn't a speedster, but he's very smooth in his route running and always seems to get open.

At tight end, Jerame Tuman is a decent player, but wouldn't start for many other teams in the league. Billed as a receiving tight end out of college, he's probably better as a blocker right now because he's doesn't have great speed. Tuman is also heading into his contract season, meaning this will be a position they address one way or another, especially if Burress leaves.

Jay Riemersma disappointed again this season and doesn't seem to be able to stay healthy. He's also due a base salary of $1.3 million next season, money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Matt Cushing has carved out a nice career for himself as a serviceable backup tight end and fullback. He's a good blocker, but doesn't offer much as a receiver. The team may bring him back on the cheap.

Veteran Walter Rasby was brought in when Riemersma went on injured reserve, but will also be a free agent once again. Like Cushing, he's a good blocker, but adds little as a receiver.

Rookie Matt Kranchick spent the season on the team's active roster, but didn't see any playing time. A lanky former college receiver, Kranchick has good hands, but needs to get stronger to hold up to the beating he'll take in the NFL, not only as a blocker, but as a receiver who's expected to go over the middle and make tough catches. This will be a big offseason for Kranchick, especially if the Steelers take another tight end in the draft.

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