Player: Justin Hunter
Position: Wide Receiver
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2018 Salary Cap Hit: $870,000
2018 Season Breakdown:
There’s nothing quite like a height-speed combination at the wide receiver position to give you nine lives. Justin Hunter was a second-round draft pick who has never played like one, but he has been around for the better part of a decade now because people keep believing that they know how to get the most out of him.
Originally drafted by the Tennessee Titans, he had a modest amount of success there with below-average quarterback play, but was ultimately demoted and then released. He ended up with the Buffalo Bills for most of the 2016 season, where he caught four touchdowns on something like just 10 receptions.
The Steelers chose to pick him up in 2017 as Martavis Bryant insurance, but he spent most of the year as a healthy scratch. This year proved to be largely the same song and dance, only dressing for five games, but that is partly due to injury.
On what admittedly should have been a long touchdown pass on an overthrown pass from Ben Roethlisberger against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13, Hunter stretched out to try to bring in the ball and suffered a shoulder injury.
It may well have been the last snap he ever took in a Steelers uniform, because he will be a free agent once again and has only caught seven passes for 44 yards and one touchdown during that time. He may be local to Mike Tomlin, but how many years can that really buy you?
Free Agency Outlook:
As you might gather, I expect the Steelers’ interest in re-signing Hunter to be low, even though they already re-signed him once. They still have JuJu Smith-Schuster even after they presumably trade Antonio Brown, with the group of James Washington, Ryan Switzer, and Eli Rogers all returning.
Special teams ace Darrius Heyward-Bey is the more likely option to be re-signed, as much as many will hate to hear that. Additionally, if they do trade Brown, they will be looking to make a bigger addition than re-signing Hunter.
If they target the wide receiver position in free agency, a veteran such as Golden Tate could potentially be an option, but others will be available as well, both immediately and subsequently, even after the draft.
And of course they may both sign a veteran and draft yet another wide receiver, as they do almost every single year, in spite of the fact that they have used two premium picks in the second round on the position over the past two seasons. If Hunter is re-signed again, he is just going to be a weekly inactive. They can get somebody else to do that.