The Pittsburgh Steelers’ season ended a few weeks earlier that they had planned it to, but now that their 2015 campaign has drawn to a conclusion, it’s time to wrap things up and take stock of where they are and how they got there. Part of that process involves holding player exit meetings at the conclusion of each season.
Of course, we’re not privy to the specifics that go on in each of these meetings between head coach and player, and whomever else might be involved in any particular discussion, but if we were conducting them, it might go something like this.
Player: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Position: Wide Receiver
Experience: 7 Years
The Steelers took a chance on the former first-round bust, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, in the 2014 offseason after flaming out with the Colts on a one-year, $3 million contract. The veteran signed a one-year, veteran-minimum deal with no promise of making the roster, but he did, and he carved a niche for himself on special teams with marginal offensive impact.
That role changed somewhat in 2015 in part by necessity following the announcement of a four-game suspension for Martavis Bryant. That thrust Heyward-Bey into a significant role as one of the primary outside targets in the Steelers’ base 11 personnel package, which includes three wide receivers.
He proved fairly productive for the offense in spite of the fact that Ben Roethlisberger missed much of that time. He caught four passes for an average of about 68 yards in the first two games, including a touchdown, and followed it with another touchdown two weeks later.
His production waned dramatically, as did his playing time, with Bryant’s return, limited to just one reception for 21 yards from the sixth game through the 14th, but he had a big 66-yard reception in the regular season finale, and another key long ball in the postseason as well.
But not to be ignored was his excellent work as a special teams contributor. Serving on several units, perhaps his most visible assignment was working as one of the team’s two primary gunners on the punt coverage unit.
In that capacity, he performed well, inducing several fair catches and downing a punt or two while making a couple of tackles as well. On kick coverage units, he used his speed to help set the right outside perimeter, at times able to blow up the return team’s blocking scheme.
Once fairly regarded as an underachieving bust, Heyward-Bey has in a way been able to remake himself in Pittsburgh as a hardworking, blue collar sort of player who has also proven himself to be a good teammate, with wisdom and lessons to be passed on that he has accrued through his own experiences in the league as the longest-tenured wide receiver in the room.
With his 21 receptions for 314 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to his other contributions, including that of a blocker, in fact, the veteran may have even garnered himself a pay raise above the veteran minimum this offseason, which may result in the Steelers losing him whether by choice or otherwise.