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Targets for the Steelers NFL trade deadline: Is there a tight end who makes sense?

Aug 19, 2023; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth (88) celebrates his twenty-five yard touchdown reception against the Buffalo Bills during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports


PITTSBURGH — While Omar Khan is not ruling out the possibility, it is likely not at the top of his priority list coming up to Tuesday’s NFL trade deadline, especially if it is not one of the big-name deals we have become used to from the rookie general manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After more than a year of leading the organization, if there is one thing we have learned from Khan, it is that he is always willing to listen to offers and keeps his phone on all the time. Now, making a deal at the trade deadline might be more far-fetched than last year because they don’t have a player they need to get rid of (Chase Claypool) or a glaring need at any one position except maybe tight end.

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However, his reputation as the “Khan Artist” is not earned by accident; he has a knack for creating something from nothing. In addition to switching around in this year’s draft to acquire Broderick Jones, Darnell Washington, and Nick Herbig, Khan has made seven trades since being promoted.

Here have been his trades:

A once conservative organization when it comes to trading, the Steelers have made deadline deals in each of the last three years, including acquiring Avery Williamson in 2020 and dumping Melvin Ingram in 2021 and Claypool in 2022.

Khan has shown in his short time on the job that he is willing to take chances and mix things up.

Historically, the Steelers rarely pay receivers on multiyear deals past their first contract. The exceptions, albeit generational players, were Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. In August 2022, Khan signed Diontae Johnson. Khan also signed Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chris Boswell to record deals just months into his new job, then signed Alex Highsmith to a lucrative deal despite also having T.J. Watt on the roster.

So, never count out Khan for stirring something up, especially if it creates depth at a position.

Where that depth has been challenged this year is tight end.

Pat Freiermuth missed the better part of two games with a pulled hamstring sustained Oct. 1 at Houston. He was set to make his return Sunday but aggravated it Thursday, landing him on injured reserve. Freiermuth will be eligible to return for the Nov. 19 game against Cleveland.

The Steelers are light at tight end and had to use Rodney Williams against the Rams because of Washington’s slow development and the fact that Connor Heyward has not fully settled into the role. Scotty Washington was added to the practice squad on Tuesday.

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With Freiermuth out, Heyward played 86 percent of the snaps against the Rams and caught two passes for 23 yards. Tomlin deflected the lack of production of the tight ends to matchup issues and the return of Johnson from his hamstring injury.

Even so, in Freiermuth’s absence, a tight end would interest the Steelers the most. Here are potential targets.

Mo Alie-Cox, Colts

Despite having 93 catches in more than five seasons, Alie-Cox lost the favor of the Indianapolis coaching staff and dropped to No. 3 on the depth chart. He is a former basketball player with upside but is behind Kylen Granson and Drew Ogletree, having played 30 percent of the snaps after exceeding 50 percent in 2021 and 2022.

Alie-Cox had nine touchdowns from 2020 to 2022. His salary could be an issue. He would be due a prorated portion of his $4.8 million base salary and $510,000 in per-game roster bonuses. His $5.4 million salary and roster bonuses in 2024 aren’t guaranteed.

Hunter Henry, Patriots

Henry is the Patriots’ No. 1 tight end and comes with a hefty price tag. He is owed a prorated portion of his $9.5 million in base salary and $1 million in per-game roster bonuses. For a soon-to-be 29-year-old rent-a-player with 20 receptions for 210 yards and two touchdowns, that cost doesn’t seem practical, even if he is two years removed from scoring nine touchdowns.

Mike Gesicki, Patriots

Gesicki is cut from the same cloth as Freiermuth as a weapon offensively. The 28-year-old spent his entire playing career with the Dolphins before agreeing to a $4.5 million, one-year contract with the Patriots in the offseason. However, the total value of his base pay and per-game roster bonuses came to just $2 million. So, he’s affordable, but is he good enough? He had good seasons from 2019 to 2021 but has fallen off, first in Mike McDaniel’s offense in Miami and then Bill O’Brien’s in New England. He has nine catches over the last five weeks, even if one was a game-winning touchdown against the Bills on Sunday. He will be a free agent next year.

Zach Ertz, Cardinals

If the Steelers want to make a splash, they could go after Ertz. His best days are behind him, and he just went on IR with a quad strain, but if it isn’t too bad, that could just make him cheaper. He was rounding into shape after a torn ACL last year. He is a pure pass catcher but comes with a big price tag: $8.8 million salary, prorated over the rest of the season. If Khan could convince the Cardinals to eat some money, the Steelers might be willing to take a flier on Ertz, who has 709 catches, 7,434 yards and 46 touchdowns in 151 games over 11 seasons.

C.J. Uzomah, Jets

With Tyler Conklin taking over the No. 1 spot in New York, Uzomah could be on the trading block, especially at age 30. He played seven seasons with the Bengals and is in Year 2 with the Jets. Despite only having four this year, he has 188 career receptions.

Elsewhere, the Steelers could look to acquire depth on the defensive line and at cornerback, as well. But they don’t have much in the way of collateral. They won’t trade backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and it’s unlikely they would move third-stringer Mason Rudolph unless it is a significant haul.

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