The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t exactly hurting for wide receivers, but they ensured some more depth for the 2016 season on Monday by bringing back wideout Darrius Heyward-Bey ahead of the start of free agency.
Rand Getlin of NFL Network reported the two sides agreed on a deal and noted that Heyward-Bey believes "Pittsburgh is special." Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported the agreement is for three years and $3.8 million.
The Steelers have since announced the agreement.
Curt Popejoy of USA Today predicted Pittsburgh would bring the veteran pass-catcher back as something of a stopgap until youngster Sammie Coates is ready to contribute on an everyday basis:
So what is his future with the Steelers look like? I expect the Steelers to sign Heyward-Bey to a one-year contract, and allow for a slower transition for Coates to the regular lineup. That’s not to say if Coates has a huge training camp, Heyward-Bey isn’t released in the final round of cuts. It’s great to have a veteran like him on the roster, but this team is pretty deep, and there just might not be a place for him once the regular season gets here.
Heyward-Bey may be a secondary priority in Pittsburgh’s loaded offense, but he was the seventh overall pick in the 2009 draft. The Oakland Raiders were enamored by his speed and size combination at 6’2”, although he never parlayed that skill set into the go-to-receiver production the Raiders hoped for in his four seasons in the Bay Area.
To be fair, Heyward-Bey did rack up a career-high 975 receiving yards and four touchdown catches in 2011, but he only combined for 1,096 receiving yards and seven touchdown catches during his other three seasons in Oakland.
He then joined the Indianapolis Colts in 2013 but was overshadowed by T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne and only notched 309 receiving yards and a single score.
The Steelers signed him before the 2014 campaign, but he only caught a combined 24 passes for 347 yards and two scores the past two seasons. The lack of production is at least understandable since Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant represent arguably the best threesome in the league from a pure talent standpoint, and Heyward-Bey took a backseat in the offense.
It figures to be more of the same in 2016 for Heyward-Bey in Pittsburgh, but he did flash his potential game-changing talent in 2011.
He will also still only be 29 years old during the 2016 season and at least gives the Steelers more depth behind their primary trio of pass-catchers. If even one of them went down with injury, Pittsburgh has a receiver who had enough talent to merit a top-10 selection in the draft as an insurance policy.
Heyward-Bey filled that role admirably last year when Bryant was suspended for four games. The former Raider tallied 209 of his 314 yards and both of his touchdowns for the season in the initial five contests and gave the Steelers something of an indication of what he can do if absolutely needed.
That must have been enough in Pittsburgh’s eyes, because he is back on the offense alongside the dangerous receivers in front of him on the depth chart. With a year of experience in the offense under his belt and his speed and size still intact, Heyward-Bey may at least be a formidable No. 4 option for the Steelers in 2016.