Even if it has been repeatedly proven that winning free agency rarely results in winning a Lombardi (ask Daniel Snyder), free agency excites NFL fan bases. Fantasy Football becomes real. Real money changes hands, players switch teams in moves coaches, general managers, the players themselves and agents, especially agents, assure us are win-win.
- Yet the Pittsburgh Steelers are never big players in free agency.
That disappoints some Steelers fans, (never mind that the Patriots aren’t very active either) who are forced to settle for under the radar signings.
- Yet, sometimes Kevin Colbert’s bargain hunting pays big dividends.
Ryan Clark arrived as a stopgap signing in 2006 and helped cement a Super Bowl era. Mewelde Moore’s arrival barely merited mention in the press, yet he was 2008’s unsung hero. Brice McCain only stayed for a year, but punched above his weight while in Pittsburgh.
Then you have players like Justin Hunter, who arrived as a free agent and is now approaching his shot at a third contract from the Steelers…..
Capsule Profile of Justin Hunter’s Steelers Career
The Steelers signed Justin Hunter relatively early in free agency in 2017, although it was clear he was only being brought in as a backup. Mike Munchack had drafted him in the 2nd round of the 2013 NFL Draft and at 6’4” 203 Justin Hunter had all the measurables.
- The word was he feared contact.
Justin Hunter earned a roster spot, despite the star power of Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and JuJu Smith-Schuster and the presence of backups like Eli Rogers and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Justin Hunter didn’t dazzle, even in preseason, but word was he was good in practice and, perhaps more importantly, Ben Roethlisberger liked him.
In 2017 Justin Hunter saw action in 7 games and caught 4 passes of 10 thrown his way. The Steelers resigned him in 2018 and Hunter made the team again, although only appeared in 5 games and only managed to catch 3 of 13 passes thrown his way.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning Justin Hunter
Ooh, this is a toughie. Even a theoretical case for resigning Justin Hunter hardly seems plausible. If Eli Rogers had been healthy at the beginning of the season and/or if James Washington had been ready for prime time, The Turk would have visited Justin Hunter.
But here it goes:
Justin Hunter gives Ben Roethlisberger a tall target. He knows the system and could provide veteran stability for a unit being rocked by losing a Hall of Fame talent…
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Justin Hunter
…The Steelers lose Antonio Brown, and its Justin Hunter to the rescue! Yeah, right.
The Steelers took a flyer on Justin Hunter in 2017 and there’s no shame in that. Their decision to resign him in 2018 was questionable, but understandable – to a point.
But nothing Justin Hunter has done suggests he’s worthy of taking up a training camp roster spot. Nothing.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Justin Hunter
Taking a flyer on Justin Hunter in 2017 made sense. Resigning Justin Hunter last spring was a little puzzling, but more a little understandable given the way the depth chart evolved at wide receiver, although with 20/20 hindsight the extra roster spot should have gone to a running back.
- The Steelers wide receiver corps is undergoing a seismic shift this off season.
No on really knows what the Steelers 2019 opening day wide receivers depth chart will look like, but it will be very different. And it will be poorer, on paper at least. With that understanding, there is no conceivable way that Justin Hunter’s presence makes Pittsburgh’s 2019 WR’s better.
It is time for Justin Hunter to stalk his NFL future somewhere other than Pittsburgh.