Former Steelers wide receiver Justin Hunter has healed up from a torn labrum and will work out for four NFL teams, a source tells ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler (on Twitter). The Jets, Redskins, Texans, Patriots, and Ravens will all kick the tires on Hunter, giving the former Steelers wideout an opportunity to get on the field for 2019.
Hunter, a freakish athlete, has yet to really make his mark at the pro level. He seemed to hold serious promise when he entered the league as a second round pick of the Titans in 2013. but he has spent time with three other teams in his young career.
Hunter managed just 14 catches with the Bills, Dolphins, and Steelers between 2017 and 2018. His most productive season came in 2014 when he had 28 catches for 498 yards and three scores with the Titans, though he did manage four TDs with Buffalo in 2016.
The Patriots auditioned Hunter before the start of training camp, but he left New England without a deal.
The Patriots worked out four wide receivers on Monday, according to Field Yates of ESPN.com (on Twitter). Free agents Nick Williams (Titans), Justin Hunter (Steelers), Papi White (Jaguars), and Travin Dural (Saints) all showed their stuff for the Pats, who will be without Julian Edelman for the next three weeks because of a thumb injury.
Hunter seemed to hold serious promise when he entered the league as a second round pick of the Titans in 2013. Since then, he has spent time with three other teams, with the Steelers being the most recent of the bunch. He has managed just 14 catches with the Bills, Dolphins, and Steelers between 2017 and 2018. Last year, he did not see the field. His best season came most productive season came in 2014 when he had 28 catches for 498 yards and three scores with the Titans, though he did manage four TDs with Buffalo in 2016.
Hunter and the other players won’t have the easiest path towards making the Patriots’ final cut, but one of them may have an outside opportunity to hook on with the defending champs.
Bill Musgrave, who was elevated to Broncos‘ offensive coordinator once Mike McCoy was dismissed after Week 10 of the 2017 campaign, could not effectuate many wholesale changes to the offense midseason. But as Mike Klis of 9News.com writes, Musgrave is installing an almost completely different offense this year. “Yeah, it’s pretty much all different,” Musgrave said.
Denver ranked 27th in the league in scoring last season, and everyone from the front office down believed that McCoy’s complex system was a big reason for that, although the team’s offense has been in a funk since the second half of the 2014 season. However, the Broncos hope that Case Keenum will bring much-needed stability to the quarterback position, and that Musgrave’s more streamlined offense — which was developed along with GM John Elway, head coach Vance Joseph, and personnel advisor Gary Kubiak — will lead to improved results in 2018.
Now let’s take look at a few other AFC notes and rumors:
Although Tom Brady has not announced when he will return to the Patriots, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe, just like owner Robert Kraft, expects him to be present for the team’s mandatory minicamp this week. Brady’s backups, Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling, have gotten increased work in Brady’s absence, and it remains unclear as to how Brady will be received by head coach Bill Belichick when he returns. While Brady will likely not have much trouble making up for lost time, his absence has created plenty of buzz in the NFL world, and it is not helping the already palpable tension between him and his coach.
Mike Reiss of ESPN.com says Patriots second-year TE Jacob Hollister, who made the team as a UDFA last year, has added some noticeable weight and strength and has looked good in OTAs. Hollister will compete for No. 3 TE reps with free agent signee Troy Niklas, who comes with a better draft pedigree but who has not done much in his first few professional seasons.
Jets CEO Christopher Johnson‘s pro-player stance on the national anthem issue will likely not be a major factor when it comes to luring free agents, but Rich Cimini of ESPN.com says it is suggestive of a player-friendly environment, which could be a selling point if a player has narrowed his choice to a couple of teams. In the same piece, Cimini notes that the team is rededicating itself to a physical and prominent running game, which free agent signee Isaiah Crowell will lead, and that Quincy Enunwa still expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
Steelers‘ 2018 second-round choice James Washington is the presumptive favorite to assume the team’s No. 3 WR job following the draft-day trade of Martavis Bryant. But as Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com writes, Justin Hunter — a former second-round pick of the Titans whose star never rose like some expected — has been getting a few first-team reps during this year’s OTAs, and he is making the most of them. Hunter, like Bryant, is a lanky deep threat capable of making plays downfield, and he hopes to become a consistent target for Ben Roethlisberger.
Both Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap are entering the final year of their respective contracts, and as Paul Dehner Jr. of the Cincinnati Enquirer notes, the Bengals clearly want to keep Atkins around long-term. Whether or not they want to keep Dunlap could hinge not only on the performance of the young defensive lineman already on the roster, but on next year’s crop of rookies. 2019 is already being labeled “the year of the defensive lineman,” and if the 2019 crop of collegiate prospects lives up to its billing, Cincinnati could be perfectly content to let Dunlap walk. We learned yesterday that Dunlap would end his short-lived holdout and report to the team.
In the same piece linked above, Dehner names Bengals‘ 2018 fifth-round choice Darius Phillips as the late-round pick who has stood out the most thus far. Phillips has been deployed as a slot corner in spring practices and has looked sharp and instinctive. He also has been getting a shot at punt returner, as he is reportedly electric with the ball in his hands.
Hunter seemed to hold serious promise when he entered the league as a second round pick of the Titans in 2013. Since then, he has spent time with three other teams with the Steelers being the most recent of the bunch. He has managed just 14 catches with the Bills, Dolphins, and Steelers over the last two campaigns. His best season came most productive season came in 2014 when he had 28 catches for 498 yards and three scores with the Titans, though he did manage four TDs with Buffalo in 2016.
Hunter won’t have the easiest path towards making the Steelers’ final cut. Ideally, he’d be a No. 5 WR type, but he doesn’t offer much in the way of special teams value. He has played only four special teams snaps during his six-year career.
The Cowboys will meet with free agent wide receiver Allen Hurns, according to Josina Anderson of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Hurns’ visit with Dallas will take place ahead of his summit with the Jets, as weather elements are keeping Hurns out of New York.
Hurns, 26, was excellent as Jacksonville’s No. 2 wide receiver in 2015, putting up 10 touchdowns behind top pass-catcher Allen Robinson. The former undrafted free agent landed a four-year, $40MM deal following that campaign, but Hurns only made it through two years before being released. A number of clubs, including the Bears, Bills, Saints, Texans, Jets, Raiders, and Panthers have also expressed interest in Hurns.
Inman, 29, broke out for 58 receptions and 810 yards with the Chargers in 2016, but he tumbled down the team’s depth chart following the return of a healthy Keenan Allen. Los Angeles shipped Inman to the Bears at mid-season for a conditional seventh-round pick, and he went to finish third among Chicago wideouts in receptions (23) and yards (334).
Hunter, meanwhile, wouldn’t qualify as any more than a No. 5 receiver, as he’s managed just 14 total receptions with three different teams over the past two years. Ideally, a back-end wideout such as Hunter would offer special teams value, but the former second-round pick has played only four special teams snaps during his six-year career.
Mike Zimmer shed some light on Teddy Bridgewater‘s progress recently, revealing (via Jay Glazer of Fox Sports; Twitter link) there is a “possibility” the fourth-year quarterback returns for the Vikings this season. Zimmer reiterates Bridgewater has not been able to practice yet, further pointing to an uncertain future for the former starting quarterback.
CBA language is murky regarding what could happen if Bridgewater begins the season the Reserve/PUP list, with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk noting this, as written, would cause the passer’s contract to toll and keep him on the Vikings in 2018 as part of his rookie deal. While this subject has been broached a few times this offseason, Florio adds that this contract rule as applied would suggest Bridgewater would need to miss the entire season for his deal to be carried over onto Minnesota’s 2018 books. So, the former Louisville star returning from the PUP list this season could be pivotal for his career, even if Sam Bradford has a firm grip on the starting job.
This could be a drawn-out process for Bridgewater and the Vikings without a near-future resolution, but it’s definitely a worthwhile subplot to their season. Here’s the latest in relevant North-divisions subplots.
Several backups complemented Antonio Brown for the Steelers in the AFC championship game last season as injuries and unavailability mounted, and they’re almost all on the roster bubble now. Sammie Coates and Darrius Heyward-Bey are not locks to make the Steelers’ 53-man roster, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes. Coates, Heyward-Bey, Justin Hunter, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers are fighting for the final two spots — behind Brown, Martavis Bryant, Eli Rogers and JuJu Smith-Schuster, per Fittipaldo. The Steelers started Ayers, Hamilton and Heyward-Bey at least once apiece in their three-game playoff sojourn last season, but now that they are deeper, won’t need some of these players to return. Coates not being given a third year would be notable for the 2015 third-round pick, who’s been inconsistent, but the remainder of these players mostly saw action due to higher-level performers’ unavailability in 2016.
Bengals DC Paul Guenther discussed the prospect of acquiring defensive end Chris Smith with player personnel director Duke Tobin, expressing support for a move that eventually came April 11 via trade from the Jaguars, Paul Dehner Jr. of cincinnati.com reports. Smith participated in only 311 defensive plays in three Jacksonville seasons, and did not suit up in 10 games last season, but looks to have made a good case for more playing time in Cincinnati, Dehner Jr. writes.
Kyle Long not set to play in the Bears‘ third preseason game — and likely not Chicago’s fourth exhibition tilt — makes the guard’s Week 1 status uncertain, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune tweets. The Bears are being cautious with their top guard after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury in November 2016.
The Steelers have signed wide receiver Justin Hunter, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. The former second-round pick has yet to justify his draft status but the Steelers are apparently intrigued by his athleticism and speed.
The Patriots were linked to Hunter last week, but they might have backed off their pursuit after installing Brandin Cooks at the top of their WR depth chart. Hunter closed out the year with the Bills, but we didn’t hear any word of them trying to retain him.
Wide receiver Justin Hunter visited the Steelers on Monday, as Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. The team also met with former Green Bay linebacker Jayrone Elliott.
Hunter, a former second-round pick, has never lived up to expectations. The Titans’ old regime believed that he had the upside and talent to be a bonafide WR1 in the NFL. The new regime, led by GM Jon Robinson, cut him loose in September. From there, Hunter had stints with the Dolphins and Bills. In 13 games, he amassed ten catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns.
The Steelers presently have seven wide receivers under contract: Antonio Brown, Cobi Hamilton, Eli Rogers, Sammie Coates, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Demarcus Ayers, and Canaan Severin. That’s a solid top five, so it’s possible that the Steelers are eyeing Hunter as a practice squad candidate. If that’s the case, then any potential deal between the Steelers and Hunter would probably take a while to go down. Before signing a taxi squad deal, Hunter will likely exhaust all other 53-man roster opportunities.
The Patriots have been connected to a number of free agents, and we now have another wideout to add to the list. ESPN’s Field Yates tweets that Justin Hunter is set to visit the organization today.
The former second-rounder joined the Bills early during the 2016 season after being waived by the Dolphins. In 12 games (five starts) with Buffalo, the receiver hauled in 1o catches for 189 yards and four touchdowns. The 25-year-old’s best season came in 2014 with the Titans, when he finished with 29 receptions, 498 yards, and three touchdowns.