You’ll forgive me if I deviate slightly from my peers, as I don’t believe something much go wrong in order for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Justin Hunter to make the 53-man roster for a second year in a row in spite of his minimal contributions to the team’s efforts last season.
Neither Dave Bryan nor Alex Kozora are particularly excited about Hunter’s return. The truth is that there is nothing to get excited about. But similar to the re-signing of Stevan Ridley—though to an even lesser degree—it’s one of those things where it’s nice to have him back for depth and as a ‘just in case’.
While he was rarely put on the field, one thing that can be said for Hunter that has almost never been talked about is that he was somebody who was liked in the locker room. He kept his head up in spite of the fact that he wasn’t playing, according to the beat writers late last season, and quite frankly that’s an important trait in a depth player.
With Eli Rogers still recovering from a torn ACL, and it remaining unknown if the team will indeed eventually re-sign him, Hunter does provide versatility in the slot, where currently only JuJu Smith-Schuster would see frequent playing time.
The veteran wide receiver’s future would quickly turn bleak if the Steelers address the wide receiver position in the draft, however, which is very possible. Perhaps even likely. Already stacked with Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, Smith-Schuster, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, there may well only be room for one more wide receiver on the 53-man roster.
The decision to keep six wide receivers a year ago was a rarity with the numbers at certain positions breaking in unusual ways to allow for the extra depth there, and with Heyward-Bey holding a key special teams role. The uncertainty over Bryant’s situation also helped push for that extra spot, though it’s fair to point out that this being his likely final season in Pittsburgh also makes it more likely they will keep six.
I was not a fan of Hunter’s when he was signed last year and am pretty sure I didn’t have him making my 53-man roster at least a couple of times during the preseason, and there’s an excellent chance that he doesn’t make the roster for real this time.
But I still find myself pleased to see him back as an insurance policy against something going wrong. I do believe he is capable of contributing more than we saw last season, even relative to his highly limited snaps, but would never likely be any better than the third option at wide receiver even in the event of injury.
The bottom line is that it was a no-risk signing. He surely will have only received a veteran-minimum contract with a very small signing bonus, if any signing bonus at all. With displacement, he will have cost at most a couple hundred thousand against the cap. He is a player who knows the offense and is liked by his peers. The reunion makes sense, even if it may be short-lived. He might as well be given the chance to compete.