PITTSBURGH – On paper, the Steelers’ receiving corps appeared to be among the best in the NFL after the 2015 season.
Then, Martavis Bryant was suspended for the season for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy and Markus Wheaton, Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey each suffered substantial injuries that cost them portions of the 2016 season.
Justin Hunter can relate. The 6-4, 201-pound former second-round pick looks good on paper. But his on-field production hasn’t matched his potential.
The Steelers signed the speedy former second-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans to a one-year contract Wednesday in Pittsburgh’s first foray into the free-agent market.
The team hopes that Hunter, who averaged 16.7 yards per catch in his four-year career, can finally become the sum of his parts on this, his fourth NFL team.
Hunter’s most extensive NFL experience came with the Tennessee Titans, who kept the former University of Tennessee star in state in the 2013 draft under then-head coach Mike Munchak, now the Steelers’ offensive line coach.
But Hunter struggled with the Titans.
In July, 2015, he was arrested for felony assault in his hometown in Virginia Beach, Va. He was found not guilty.
The Titans decided to move on from Hunter, releasing him at the end of training camp in 2016. He signed with Miami but was released after appearing in just one game and spent the rest of the season with Buffalo.
Hunter has caught 78 career passes for 1,305 yards with 12 touchdowns.
The Steelers were in the market for a veteran wide receiver after Wheaton signed a two-year free-agent deal with Chicago last week. Pittsburgh also is still awaiting word from the league if Bryant will be reinstated after serving his one-year suspension.
Meanwhile, the Steelers’ meeting with free-agent linebacker Dont’a Hightower ended Tuesday without a contract agreement and Hightower re-signed with New England Wednesday. Hightower’s deal is reportedly worth $43.5 million over four years, including $19 million guaranteed.
The Steelers were offering in the range of $8 million per season.