Steelers sign WR Donte Moncrief, bring back WR Eli Rogers
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Donte Moncrief can do the math in his head. Yet the newest Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver has no plans to fill the void left by Antonio Brown.
“AB is one of the best if not the best ever,” Moncrief said on Thursday hours after signing a two-year deal with Pittsburgh. “You can’t try to be what he was. You can only be what you are.”
What Moncrief has been during his five-year career is dependable if not always prolific. A third-round pick by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2014 NFL draft, Moncrief brings 200 career receptions for 2,543 yards and 21 touchdowns to Pittsburgh, where he suddenly finds himself as the most experienced receiver in the room.
The 25-year-old wideout has played in 69 games for Indianapolis and Jacksonville. The group Moncrief joins — rising star JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Eli Rogers (re-signed to a two-year deal on Thursday) — has played in 74 career games combined.
Now, the player who was mentored by longtime Colts star Reggie Wayne finds himself in position to do the mentoring in Pittsburgh. Moncrief said the Steelers have a “great room,” and if he can be “the guy that pushes guy,” it’s a role he’ll gladly accept.
Pittsburgh does provide Moncrief with something he hasn’t enjoyed in recent seasons: stability at quarterback. In the last four years Moncrief has caught passes from Andrew Luck, Matt Hasselbeck, Jacoby Brissett, Blake Bortles and Cody Kessler. Barring injury, there is no such uncertainty in Pittsburgh, where 37-year-old Ben Roethlisberger remains a part of the team’s long-term plans. Roethlisberger is entering the final season of his contract but is expected to sign an extension in the very near future.
That’s fine by Moncrief, who heard from Roethlisberger shortly after the deal was completed.
“He’s ready to get going, get some chemistry, lock in,” Moncrief said.
Moncrief’s arrival also gives him common ground with his father, Spencer. The elder Moncrief is a lifelong Steelers fan and told his son a month ago he had a feeling he would end up in Pittsburgh.
“I’m a Steeler now, so I guess we’re in the same boat,” Moncrief said.
Moncrief can play on both the outside and the inside, though his 6-foot-2 frame would seem to make him a perfect complement to the 6-1 Smith-Schuster, with the 5-11 Washington and the 5-10 Rogers working primarily in the slot. Not that it ultimately matters. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner showed in his first season that he will get creative with where his receivers line up in an effort to create the best matchup.
Moncrief has shown an ability to get downfield. He averaged 13.9 yards per catch playing for the Jaguars in 2018 and had a career-best 15.0 yards per reception during his final season with the Colts in 2017.
The numbers, however, don’t exactly line up with Brown’s historic production. The only player with six consecutive seasons of at least 100 catches is now playing in Oakland after a messy divorce that ended with Brown being shipped to the Raiders for a pair of draft picks.
Brown’s highly public fallout with the team following his benching in Week 17 created headlines for weeks. Moncrief ignored them and said everyone he talked to before officially joining the Steelers talked about the way the organization treats its players.
Pittsburgh prefers to take care of its own, and it did that again when it re-signed Rogers shortly before Moncrief’s deal became official. The 26-year-old Rogers made the team as an undrafted free agent out of Louisville. He spent most of 2018 recovering from a torn ACL in his right knee suffered in a playoff loss to Jacksonville 15 months ago. He returned to catch 12 passes for 79 yards in limited action.
Both Moncrief and Rogers will get a chance to face newly acquired cornerback Steven Nelson when the Steelers begin organized team activities in the spring. Nelson, who agreed to a three-year contract on Wednesday, picked off four passes for Kansas City in 2018, matching the total of Pittsburgh’s entire secondary.
Nelson is aware creating takeaways was a problem for the Steelers last season. He hopes to be part of the solution.
“I know this year will be different,” Nelson said Thursday. “We’re going to change that around this year.”
Nelson is also looking forward to the fall and lining up across from the retooled Cleveland Browns, whose receiving group includes Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr., whom Cleveland landed in a stunning trade earlier this week.
“I welcome that challenge,” Nelson said.