After being stuck behind Antonio Gates during his first four years in the NFL, Ladarius Green will have a chance to shine in new surroundings. According to Albert Breer of NFL Network, Green agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Steelers on a four-year deal worth $20 million. The Steelers announced the deal on Thursday.
Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle noted Green would get a $4.75 million signing bonus and make $1.25 million in 2016, $5 million in 2017 and $4.5 million in both 2018 and 2019.
Green commented on the move on Thursday:
Just want to say thank you to the steelers organization for believing in me in excited to be here and starting working towards 7— Ladarius Green (@king_green89) March 10, 2016
The San Diego Chargers selected Green in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, and in 47 games for the team, he caught 77 passes for 1,087 yards and seven touchdowns.
NFL.com's Chris Trapasso is already looking forward to Pittsburgh's offense with Green in the fold:
ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler believes he'll help the Steelers with more than just his pass-catching as well:
Signing Ladarius Green about more than additional playmaking -- blocking TEs crucial for this offense. Steelers feel Green a good blocker— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) March 9, 2016
With Gates suspended for the first four games of the season, 2015 had the potential to be a breakout year for Green. Instead, Gates, who only started four games, outperformed Green in terms of production:
In Green's defense, he dealt with a two separate concussions in the space of two weeks in September and then had an ankle injury in the second half of the year. Plus, Gates will always be Philip Rivers' preferred target in the passing game, given their strong rapport.
While Green has so far failed to reach his potential, the Chargers likely considered re-signing him to be a priority this offseason. For Green, though, Gates casts a big shadow and will continue to do so until he retires or leaves San Diego.
CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora identified the 25-year-old as the one player the team could ill afford to lose. "Antonio Gates can't play forever and Green flashes very well at times," La Canfora wrote. "With Eric Weddle moving on and Malcom Floyd retiring, keeping this young move tight end around could be key. Even if they re-sign Gates, having a tandem of pass-catching tight ends would be big."
Judging by Gates' comments in December, he wasn't considering retirement.
"I don't want to go out this kind of way," Gates said, alluding to what would finish as a 4-12 season for the Chargers, per Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. "I don't want to go out as a loser. Winning is the way, ideally, you want to go out. I want to make one more run at it, and then if it doesn't work, be like, 'OK.' That’s just my feeling right now."
Green would've been a great heir apparent for Gates in San Diego, but you can't blame him for going to another team where he's more likely to be the featured tight end.
The question now is whether Green can make the most of his tremendous physical gifts. At 6'6", 240 pounds, he represents the shift in what teams are expecting of their tight ends. Ideally, a player such as Green presents major matchup problems for a defense, because he's too big for cornerbacks to jam at the line of scrimmage and too fast for linebackers to cover in open space.
Being a great athlete only goes so far in the NFL, though, a point that Green acknowledged last offseason.
"I've got a lot to work on, from route-running, to blocking and catching—everything," he said, per ESPN.com's Eric D. Williams. " could have been a lot better. I was hurt. I've got to try and stay healthy. And I've got to try and do what I can for the team. I've still got a lot to improve on."
The Steelers are a great fit for Green. Heath Miller officially retired in February, which opens up a spot at tight end. Training camp is still a few months away, but the starting job is essentially Green's to lose since neither Matt Spaeth nor Jesse James has established himself as a No. 1 tight end.
Green shouldn't have to worry about whether he'll be a key cog for the team. Miller never cracked the 1,000-yard mark, but he averaged a healthy 54 receptions, 597 yards and four touchdowns per year in his 11 seasons with the team.
The AFC North will be up for grabs in 2016, and adding Green only strengthens the Steelers' chances of recapturing the division crown after missing out in 2015.