Player: Markus Wheaton
Position: Wide Receiver
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2016 Salary Cap Hit: $1,818,844
2016 Season Breakdown:
The Steelers never really got out of Markus Wheaton perhaps what they were hoping to when they used a third-round draft pick on him in the 2013 NFL Draft, and even before last season began, it was widely expected that he would following in Emmanuel Sanders’ footsteps and find a new home in free agency after his rookie contract is up—perhaps taking his game to another level in the process as well.
His contract year hardly ever even got out of the starting block, however, after he was initially sidelined during training camp with what I believe was a hamstring injury, or something to that effect. The significant injury, however, was the shoulder injury he suffered in the third preseason game, which proved to be his undoing.
The injury forced Wheaton to sit out the first handful of games, and when he returned, he struggled significantly, dropping three passes, including one in the end zone against the Eagles on the opening drive. He had just one catch for two yards in the game.
He did have an impact the following week against the Chiefs, during which he caught one pass, but it was a 30-yard strike for a touchdown. The following week against the Jets, he contributed two receptions for 19 yards, finishing the year with four catches for 51 yards and a touchdown.
After that, Wheaton was sidelined again as the shoulder proved to get no better. He still spent the next five weeks on the 53-man roster, but was inactive for games. He only played in three of nine games (10 weeks) in which he was on the roster before the Steelers moved him to injured reserve.
He has apparently undergone two surgeries since then, including shoulder surgery in the first weeks of December and then another to repair his labrum in the early days of January. He probably still has about a month and a half or so of recovery time.
Free Agency Outlook:
Markus Wheaton’s free agency candidacy is an interesting one that could see the Steelers remain a player for his services, given that he is likely to experience a low-value market. For starters, he will not even be fully healthy when free agency opens, which is not an ideal situation for any buyer.
Pittsburgh also realizes that they have a number of uncertainties on their roster at the wide receiver position, and if they can buy low with him, he would provide a valuable insurance policy, as he has shown that he can perform well when he is given a bigger role.
Still, it’s probably more likely than not that he does find himself a decent suitor, even if it is a one-year contract of the ‘prove it’ variety in the hopes of cashing in for real in 2018 as he becomes a free agent again.