Player: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 6 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $635,000
2014 Season Breakdown: Darrius Heyward-Bey was an early April, non-priority free agent signing for the Steelers this past offseason. One might speculate that he barely even made the final 53-man roster, but that the Steelers chose to carry both him and Justin Brown, the latter of whom played a prominent role in the offense in the first six games of the season.
But Heyward-Bey ultimately proved himself to be the more versatile and valuable player, contributing on special teams, as a deep threat decoy, and occasionally as a run blocker from the wide receiver position, roles in which his veteran status has served him well as he looks to find the second chapter of his NFL career climbing out of the stigma of being a first-round draft bust.
He finished the season with only three catches for 33 yards, and one of those receptions ended in him getting off the ground untouched, only to have the ball stripped away and recovered by the opposing team. But he also drew a deep pass interference call, and was frequently sent on deep outs to clear out the safeties—that is, when he did get any playing time on offense.
Although he had a couple of hiccups on special teams early in the season—he drew offsides calls on consecutive kickoffs—he did ultimately show his value as a special teams player for the Steelers as the year progressed.
The Steelers desired most of all, though, his veteran leadership presence and experience in a wide receivers locker room that was looking awfully youthful, with three players on the roster either in their first or second seasons and having combined for six career catches by that point.
Both he and Lance Moore did help bring along the young receiving unit, with Heyward-Bey perhaps having more to offer in terms of contributing as a special teams player and doing things away from the ball.
Though they never had to rely on him heavily as an offensive player due to struggles on top of the depth chart or injuries, in addition, the coaching staff did seem to feel comfortable with his ability to fill in with more snaps, and targets, should it have been necessary.
Free Agency Outlook: As mentioned above, Heyward-Bey is beginning the second chapter of his pro career, after bombing out as a former first-round draft pick. He understands that he can’t be that player he was drafted to be, and never was. He just needs other teams to understand that he knows that he is not that player, nor does he bring that player’s attitude into the locker room.
By all accounts, in fact, it sounded as though Heyward-Bey was a welcome presence in the locker room, and, like many of the other veteran free agent signings, felt comfortable there. He likely won’t command anything more than another veteran-minimum contract on the market again, so I see no reason why the Steelers wouldn’t re-sign him.