On Tuesday the Houston Texans released former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Donte Moncrief on the eve of training camp. It may be the last NFL fans hear from the 27-year-old, unless he tries to catch on with a CFL team—or slums it in the Indoor Football League (IFL)—like another former Steelers receiver, Martavis Bryant.
In fact, it was something of a surprise that the Texans signed Moncrief at all, inking him to a one-year contract back in March. That’s because in 2019 and 2020, Moncrief spent time with three teams—including the New York Jets and New England Patriots—during which time he caught a total of five passes for 33 yards.
Strangely, he was more effective as a kickoff returner than as a receiver, this despite having only two career kickoff returns to his name (for a total 12 yards) prior to 2020. But the Patriots utilized him as a return man and he returned seven kickoffs for 165 yards (23.6 yard average), including a 53-yarder that helped spark a comeback win over the Arizona Cardinals.
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Donte Moncrief’s Career Took a Turn for the Worse in 2019
Of course, Moncrief’s six-game stint with the Pats in 2020 was a veritable success story compared to what unfolded in Pittsburgh a year earlier, when he had more dropped passes than receptions. In five games with the Steelers (two starts), he was targeted 15 times but had just four catches for 18 yards. Most memorably, he dropped four Ben Roethlisberger passes in the team’s season-opening loss to the Patriots. He was also responsible for Mason Rudolph’s first career interception, which came after Roethlisberger suffered his season-ending elbow injury against the Seattle Seahawks—and Rudolph came on in relief.
Yet Moncrief’s sudden decline was something of a surprise, as the former third-round pick caught a total of 200 passes during his first five seasons in the league, the first four of which came with the Indianapolis Colts (2014-17), then another with the Jacksonville Jaguars (2018).
Moncrief’s Release Allowed the Steelers to Draft Alex Highsmith
If there’s a silver lining to the Donte Moncrief/Pittsburgh Steelers story, it’s that the team released him in time to preserve a 2020 compensatory pick—a third-round selection that was used to draft outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, who is projected to start opposite T.J. Watt this season.
It’s also worth noting that the Steelers are finally done with Moncrief from a salary cap perspective. Recall that Pittsburgh signed him to a two-year, $9 million contract in March 2019, then released him in November of that same year. As a result, the organization carried a $1.75 million ‘dead money’ cap charge for Moncrief in 2020, the second-highest ‘dead money’ cap hit that Pittsburgh absorbed last year. Only Mark Barron—at $2.875 million—was responsible for a larger hit.
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