The Steelers exchanged would-be key members of their 2016 team from IR in advance of their Week 11 game against the Browns, and the moves could bring to an end Markus Wheaton‘s time with the team.
Pittsburgh placed the fourth-year wide receiver on IR, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports (on Twitter). This will end Wheaton’s season because the team is bringing Bud Dupree off its IR list, making the second-year linebacker the franchise’s IR-boomerang player and rendering all other performers on IR finished for the year.
Wheaton hopes to avoid surgery, but ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that’s a possibility for the 25-year-old pass-catcher.
For Wheaton, this brings about an unfortunate end to his contract year, with the wideout who appeared set to be Ben Roethlisberger‘s No. 2 target in a high-octane offense catching just four passes and playing in only three games this season. A shoulder injury ended up shelving the longtime contributor, who missed six games as a result of the malady. Wheaton averaged 17.0 yards per catch last season in an improved campaign that saw him carve out a key role for the Steelers, scoring a career-best five touchdowns and recording 749 air yards.
A former third-round pick, Wheaton will be a free agent, and the Steelers already house Antonio Brown, Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and have Martavis Bryant under contract, although his status is murky at best due to the season-long suspension he’s serving.
Dupree has missed the season to this point with a groin injury. He played in all 16 regular-season games for the team last season and started five. Although the 2015 first-round pick was inconsistent as a rookie, the Kentucky product not having an entire season wiped away will help his development for a struggling Steelers defense.
The 23-year-old outside linebacker made 26 tackles and four sacks last season. He’ll return to a Steelers defense still flush with first-round linebackers, with the others — Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier — all starting for the 4-5 team, one that ranks 25th in total defense through 10 weeks.
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