Player: Darrius Heyward-Bey
Position: Wide Receiver
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2018 Salary Cap Hit: $1,333,334
2018 Season Breakdown:
Who would have thought, after revealing himself to be a first-round bust as a former top-10 pick of the Oakland Raiders at wide receiver, that Darrius Heyward-Bey would have an extended second act to his career?
The Raiders let Heyward-Bey go after four seasons before the Indianapolis Colts took him on for one season in 2013 with ideas of bringing out his full potential. That didn’t happen, and he would be reduced to special teams by the end of that season on a one-year, $3 million deal.
But he has since spent as much time in Pittsburgh—five years—as he has everywhere else combined during his NFL journey, and he has done so largely, or perhaps almost entirely, because of what he is capable of bringing on special teams, not dissimilar to the career of Matthew Slater.
Heyward-Bey remains one of the most underrated special teams players in the NFL, a premiere gunner who uses his still elite speed to induce fair catches on punts, or to run returners off their spot to settle for a downed ball, which hurts his tackle numbers, the most concrete ‘statistic’ for special teams.
Typically a three-phase player who functions on both coverage units as well as on punt returns, Heyward-Bey is liable to log 200-odd snaps on special teams per season, and his speed still makes him capable of running go-routes or gadget plays and end-arounds on offense.
Free Agency Outlook:
At least for the moment, it doesn’t appear as though the Steelers will necessarily be awash with talent at the wide receiver position, which makes re-signing Heyward-Bey more likely just because there is more likely to be a roster spot available even if he doesn’t get the opportunity to play on offense much.
Even if Antonio Brown is retained, there is JuJu Smith-Schuster, second-year James Washington, and not much else, obviously with Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer being the other two options.
If Brown is traded, then you really have an opening, but they would likely fill it in free agency or in the draft. Smith-Schuster and Washington are obviously not going anywhere. Switzer is their return man until otherwise noted, so he is safe as well. Rogers’ contract should toll, and there would be no outward reason that they would just decide to release him.
But as long as there is a roster spot for a sixth wide receiver, Heyward-Bey figures to be the likeliest candidate to continue to man it. Even if he doesn’t often make contributions on offense, to the chagrin of many, the value that he creates on special teams is easily worth what should be a one-year qualifying contract for the veteran minimum.