Last season, the Pittsburgh Steelers took the unusual step of carrying six wide receivers on their 53-man roster, which is not a frequent occurrence for the organization. Typically, this roster allocation tends to be limited to the times when the team believes they have strong top-end depth at the position and quality special teams contributors toward the bottom.
That was the case back in 2010 when they brought in free agents Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle, who served as the fifth and sixth wide receivers during that season. That was also the case a year ago when Justin Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey battled to a draw in the preseason, which resulted in both sticking on the roster.
But, as mentioned, such numbers are not typical on a Steelers roster, and probably should not be expected again in 2015. After all, the team has already lost two of those six receivers after they released Brown and Lance Moore. It was only yesterday that they added back Heyward-Bey to give them four wide receivers on the roster with minimal experience.
Despite this, however, there seemed to be a vocal subset of people—not just limited to the fan base, I might add—who objected to the signing on the basis that it prevents the Steelers from adding the free agent wide receiver of their choice.
The simple truth is that that is not the case. After all, Heyward-Bey was one of two free agent signings a year ago. He was added to the mix to provide competition, and the Steelers just so happened to like enough out of the top six finishers in the mix to carry all of them.
If Pittsburgh was really interested in adding another contributor who was more likely to make plays on the offensive side of the ball, then they could have signed that player. And Heyward-Bey’s signing does not preclude them from doing so now.
If, for example, the Steelers wanted to add somebody like former Steeler Nate Washington, who like Moore is not a special teams contributor at this point in his career nor is known to be much of a blocker, but who could take some reps on offense in the event of an injury, there’s nothing stopping them from doing so.
But as we saw last year with Moore, such signings do not always work out, and part of that has to do with the player’s demeanor. Moore was clearly somebody who was still expecting to play a bigger role in an offense. Jerricho Cotchery was much more accepting of his role and took the younger wide receivers under his wing.
If the Steelers can’t find that type of veteran player in free agency who will begrudge the fact that he is sitting on the bench unless somebody is injured, and perhaps not even dressing because he doesn’t contribute on special teams, then they may be better off not looking back to the wide receiver free agent market.
But whether or not they do is not inhibited by Heyward-Beys’ veteran minimum deal. That signing carries with it minimal risk, even if he fails to make the team, so there’s really very little reason to take any issue with it.