Do you remember during the offseason with the height of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ drama swirling around as the free agent period was about to begin? Remember when people were actually worried that that perception would affect players’ willingness to sign with the Steelers because they were concerned that there really was a poisonous culture?
They merely went out and spent more on outside free agents than they ever have before, including handling out two of the biggest contracts they’ve ever given to an outside free agent based on per-year averages to cornerback Steven Nelson (three years, $26.5 million) and Mark Barron (two years, $12 million).
The other player that they brought in is sixth-year wide receiver Donte Moncrief, who spent his first four years with the Indianapolis Colts before playing with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. I can’t help but wonder what he has to say about how Jacksonville’s locker room held up during their struggles last year.
So far, he isn’t seeing any of that negativity that he heard so much about, as he told Missi Matthew last week when he sat down for an interview for the team’s website during the first week of OTAs. Taking a break from working with Ben Roethlisberger, he answered several questions about his first impressions of Pittsburgh and the Steelers.
“There’s a lot of great leadership in the locker room. Even on the field, in the lunchroom, everywhere. You can tell this is a good locker room”, he told Matthews. “Everybody’s positive and everybody wants to win. I haven’t been feeling the negativity since I’ve been here, and that’s a good thing, so I’m just gonna keep it going, keep gaining the trust of everybody on the team so everybody can trust me”.
Moncrief is actually the most experienced wide receiver in the locker room now with Antonio Brown, Darrius Heyward-Bey, and Justin Hunter gone, but he wasn’t brought in to be that sort of veteran leader.
In fact, there is a very realistic chance that he serves much or even all of this season as the primary number two wide receiver in this offense working across the formation from JuJu Smith-Schuster, who assumes the top spot from the departed Brown.
It takes a good locker room to massage egos as well, though, and if he doesn’t end up having as big of a role as it might seem, he also seems to be the sort of player who will handle it well and still find ways to contribute positively without catching a ton of footballs.
Right now his most direct competition for playing time is probably James Washington, the team’s 2018 second-round pick, but rookie Diontae Johnson also figures to push for playing time, especially as the season progresses, and the two slot guys, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer, will find their place in the mix as well.