Pittsburgh Steelers free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey presents Pittsburgh with a good problem to have. The Steelers wide receiver has found a second wind in Pittsburgh, which both to his and the team’s credit.
Nonetheless, should he decide to return his spot on the depth chart is not clear, adding complexity to the decision to keep him in Pittsburgh or not.
Capsule Profile of Darrius Heyward-Bey’s Career with the Steelers
The 2014 off season found the Steelers still navigating their way through salary cap purgatory which, among other things, prevented them from resigning Emmanuel Sanders, whom they expected to lose, and Jerricho Cotchery whom they wanted and expected to keep.
- Kevin Colbert responded looking to the free agent market and signing Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey
One of those receivers turned out to a prefect fit for Pittsburgh, the other was a disappointment. If, in April 2014, you’d had make a prediction on which would be which you’d have probably put your money down on Darrius Heyward-Bey because he was a number 7 overall pick who never caught more than 64 passes, whereas Lance Moore was one of those dependable, under the radar quality wide receivers.
- Yet at the end of the 2014 season, both Lance Moore and the Steelers wanted a divorce, and the Steelers and Heyward-Bye renewed vows.
During his first season in Pittsburgh, Heyward-Bey did little more than play on special teams, only getting targeted by Ben Roethlisberger 5 times and making 3 catches. In 2015 Martavis Bryant’s suspension created an opportunity for Heyward-Bey and he seized it.
- He proved to be an incredibly reliable target for Roethlisberger and Michael Vick during the season’s first four games.
Against the San Diego Chargers, Heyward-Bey’s targets to catches ratio dipped, but he made back-to-back receptions, including a key 3rd down conversions on the Steelers final touchdown drive. Heyward-Bey’s role in the offense diminished as Martavis Bryant worked himself back into the line up, but when Bryant faltered late in the season, the Steelers turned to Heyward-Bay who delivered.
The Case for Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler
While Darrius Heyward-Bey’s evolution as a wide receiver presents one incredibly strong argument for keeping him in Pittsburgh, has this video segment (available as of 2/29/16) from the Steelers season opening loss to the Patriots:
Darrius Heyward-Bey’s greatest contributions don’t come with the ball in his hands and are perhaps those that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
As Rebecca Rollett profiled on USA Today’s The Steelers Wire Heyward-Bey excels at special teams logging 6 and 7 special teams tackles in two seasons of duty. Moreover, Heyward-Bey has learned to channel his inner Hines Ward.
The Steelers did exceptionally well in runs over 20 yards, and as Dale Lolley of the Washington Observer-Reporter informs, Steelers coaches made no bones about who sprung those blocks down field for Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams: Darrius Heyward-Bey
When you look at the value he adds, the argument for the Steelers resigning Darrius Heyward-Bey is incredibly strong.
The Case Against Darrius Heyward-Bey Staying a Steeler
Unlike in 2014 and 2015, Darrus Heyward-Bey can likely command something above the veteran minimum. And while the Steelers do have more salary cap space than in previous years, they have extensions to think about for another of higher priority players.
- There’s also the question of Heyward-Bey’s spot on the depth chart.
Antonio Brown is the Steelers number one receiver. Martavis Bryant showed in the Steelers 2015 playoffs that he can be a number 2 wide receiver. And if he flaters, Markus Wheaton provides another strong option. Looking at the Steelers playoff game vs. the Broncos, Heyward-Bey figured to be one who need to pickup the slack.
- Heyward-Bey played well, but Sammie Coates made a very, very strong showing for himself.
The Steelers have to ask themselves if they really want to use that precious extra salary cap space to resign a 5th wide receiver, when the team has such obvious needs for backup defensive lineman and drastic need for an end-to-end improvement in the defensive backfield.
Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Darrius Heyward-Bey
In a perfect world, the Steelers would find away to keep Darruis Heyward-Bey in the fold. You’ve got to admire wide receiver who was top 10 pick for swallowing his pride, picking up his lunch pail and buckling up his chin strap to make a name for himself in the trenches.
- Players like that contribute difference making plays on championship teams.
The Steelers will want him back, but their ability to keep him at a reasonable price could depend on how many people outside of Pittsburgh have noticed how much Heyward-Bey has grown.