The Pittsburgh Steelers are out of Latrobe and back at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, also referred to as the South Side Facility. We are already into the regular season, where everything is magnified and, you know, actually counts. The team is working through the highs and lows and dramas that go through a typical Steelers season.
How are the rookies performing? What about the players that the team signed in free agency? Who is missing time with injuries, and when are they going to be back? What are the coaches saying about what they are going to do this season that might be different from how it was a year ago?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Is Darrius Heyward-Bey’s time in Pittsburgh over for good?
The Steelers had a total of seven different wide receivers on their 53-man roster last year. Three of them are gone, including the big one in Antonio Brown. But veterans Justin Hunter and Darrius Heyward-Bey haven’t been re-signed. Hunter was injured and ended the season on IR, but Heyward-Bey, who has spent half of his career in Pittsburgh at this point, remains on the open market.
For half a decade, he was a staple on special teams, and that alone was enough to buy him value. But at least for now it doesn’t appear as though that is going to be enough to keep him around once again, though it’s still quite possible that he gets re-signed later in the offseason.
Their roster at the wide receiver position is already five players deep with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Donte Moncrief, Eli Rogers, and Ryan Switzer. In some years, that would be enough wide receivers for the entire 53-man roster, but the Steelers are also likely to address the position in the draft as well.
In other words, it doesn’t look great for Heyward-Bey’s chances of returning to the team this year. Perhaps one of the factors that worked against him was the fact that he had a number of penalties on special teams last year, which was uncharacteristic of him. But if his value is very nearly entirely limited to special teams, you can’t afford to have the penalties.
If he’s not brought back, however, that will be a complication for the special teams units, because he was a core member of all four return and coverage teams, and his speed cannot be duplicated by, frankly, anybody else on the roster.
In spite of his limited abilities on offense, he was also a key voice in the locker room, and especially in the wide receiver room. There is no veteran presence there any longer. Even Moncrief is actually younger than Rogers. So that dynamic will be interesting if he doesn’t get brought back.