Following the conclusion of the league’s annual Owners Meetings, the Pittsburgh Steelers quickly turned around and got to work, with the first order of business being to re-sign free agent wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey.
Heyward-Bey, a former first-round draft pick, never came close to living up to the pedigree associated with being taken so early in the draft, and found himself searching for teams to give him a chance after too long.
The Indianapolis Colts were the first to do so, signing him to a one-year, $3 million contract, but he struggled to connect with Andrew Luck, which contributed to a number of dropped passes. By season’s end, he was largely demoted from the offense, but still maintained a presence on special teams.
After the Steelers experienced some free agency departures at the wide receiver position last offseason, they brought in Heyward-Bey late in the process to add competition to the position, with no guarantees to make the roster.
At first, it didn’t seem as though he would make the roster, but the team ended up carrying six wide receivers on the roster, meaning both he and Justin Brown made it. The two shared some similar qualities, such as height and blocking ability. His veteran presence likely helped him make the roster as well, given the turnover.
With the Steelers having released both Brown and Lance Moore, they were left with only three experienced wide receivers, so adding Heyward-Bey back into the mix gives them four wide receivers, even if his contributions on offense last season were minimal.
Of course, he was often regarded as the fifth or sixth wide receiver on the depth chart, so he didn’t see much playing time. And he certainly is not going to be guaranteed a roster spot after signing yet another one-year, veteran minimum qualifying contract with the Steelers.
Should he make the roster, however, he should grow in his rapport with Roethlisberger, and would naturally ascend the depth chart and perhaps be able to contribute more on offense. While that may give some pause, he does have the potential to be an asset.
His height and speed, for example, are natural plusses that can’t be taught. There were times last season that the Steelers used him and Martavis Bryant on go routes to clear the underneath area. If you have speed that a defense has to respect, then you’re valuable.
And, of course, he can catch the football, even if he has had a history with drops, and had an unfortunate fumble after a reception a year ago. But Heyward-Bey offers much more value in other areas that compensate.
As mentioned before, he is a strong run blocker, likely the best among the wide receivers that the team has on the roster right now. He does have some knowledge about the position that he can pass on to the younger receivers in the room as well.
Of course, his main function will be on special teams, where he had some strong contributions after early in the year struggling with penalties. He made a handful of tackles and contributed to many others by funneling returners to the coverage with his speed. He also forced a fumble on special teams.
What’s more, like Arthur Moats, he is reportedly a strong locker room presence, and he presents himself without ego, bringing along with him a workmanlike attitude despite having been a former first-round draft pick. Heyward-Bey’s re-signing was a no-brainer that offers negligible risk if he fails to make the team.