While Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin never mentioned him, and the reporters never brought him up to him, either, somebody did finally ask somebody on the team about Donte Moncrief, the sixth-year wide receiver whom the team signed to a two-year, $9 million contract this offseason.
In his first season with the team, the Steelers released him late last week in order to make room for running back Tony Brooks-James due to the injuries at the position with both James Conner and Benny Snell down. But his release was also motivated by the compensatory pick formula, as it would preserve a projected third-round pick for 2020 if they did.
“It’s tough, especially because he’s an older guy, a guy with a lot of wisdom in our room”, JuJu Smith-Schuster said of the Steelers releasing Moncrief. “He’s a great player. Obviously, it came down to a situation. I talked to him and we wished each other the best of luck. We’re both gonna keep grinding and get to where we need to get”.
Moncrief was a third-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts in 2014. He spent his first four years there, but never really lived up to his potential. After signing a high-value one-year deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018, they showed no interest in retaining him, seemingly. But the Steelers did.
They needed to add somebody after Antonio Brown forced his way out of town, and the expectation was that Moncrief would step in and be a starter alongside Smith-Schuster. He did begin the regular season as a starter, spending the first two games in that role, but he was subsequently benched after struggling.
He was a healthy scratch for two games, and likely only dressed in the other three prior to his release because the Steelers had a number of injuries that would allow him to be active. They had six players injured for one game, for example, and the only healthy scratch was then rookie defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs.
A finger injury that Moncrief suffered early in training camp, before even the preseason, had a detrimental effect on his year. It’s hard to believe that the injury didn’t play a significant role in his four drops on 11 targets during his first two games.
He played very sparingly after that, catching only one additional pass to give him four on the year, with Johnny Holton being used as the primary number four. They have completely abandoned the use of four-receiver sets.
Moncrief was claimed by the Carolina Panthers, so it will be interesting to see how they choose to use him over the course of the second half of the season.