Darrius Heyward-Bey had been down the road before, had experienced what it was like to be a free agent. He knew the feeling of waiting for his phone to ring, waiting for the right offer from a team, and the uncertainty it brought with it.
"The outside world thinks it's a great time," said Heyward-Bey. "Free agency for a lot of people is nerve-wracking. We are talking about relocating if you have to go somewhere new, the negotiations are tough. But to not have to go through that and know this is home, it's a great feeling not to go through the craziness."
Heyward-Bey, who would have become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, avoided that when he was signed to a new three year contract this week. After spending the last two seasons with the Steelers, both of them one year deals, he is thrilled that he has found a place where he truly feels comfortable.
"It's a blessing to have an opportunity to call a place home, and a place like this home," said Heyward-Bey. "All the way from the Rooney family, to Kevin Colbert, Coach (Mike) Tomlin and Coach (Richard) Mann, it's special. I have made this place home and I am glad I can call it that for three more years. This organization gave me a chance to keep my career going. I think I was in a real unique situation two years ago. Former Top 10 pick, probably a guy a lot of people didn't believe in, but the Steelers did. They believed in me. I gave them everything I've got for two years, and I am looking forward to giving them three more years of that.
"It's important for me to stay here because I feel like I am a part of something special. The way the organization is run, I believe in the process, in what they are trying to do here. For me not be a part of that, I feel like I would be losing something in my heart. I truly believe that. I wanted to be around something special."
Heyward-Bey, who is entering his eighth season in the NFL, entered the league as the seventh-overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and spent his first four seasons with the Oakland Raiders. He was used primarily in a receiving role in those four seasons, as well as with the Indianapolis Colts in 2013, but when he came to the Steelers in 2014 his role was redefined. While he was still used in the passing game, the number of passes dwindled and he took on a special teams role, something completely new to him. It was a role he embraced, and one he still does.
"I love it," said Heyward-Bey. "Our special teams coach Danny Smith has a lot to do with that. His energy, his focus, his dedication to special teams. I respect that. Since I respect him and how he goes about his process I have to be on the same level as him. Every day in practice and in the games, I am bringing the same intensity he is bringing. That has helped me embrace that role.
"You have to check your ego at the door. If you don't, you won't make it, especially on this team. This team is all about winning. It's not about individuals here. It's about winning, it's about the team. If you are 80 percent in, if you have one toe in. you won't make it. You have to be 100 percent committed to the process, knowing if you want to play for the Steelers, part of the greatest organization in the National Football League, you have to check your ego at the door and do everything you can to help this team win."
Heyward-Bey, who has played in 104 games and started 69, had 21 receptions for 314 yards and two touchdowns last season, while also playing a huge role on special teams. Getting more involved in the offense is something he desires, especially with the firepower it has.
"It is exciting," said Heyward-Bey. "The way Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger go about getting a game plan going, and us utilizing all that great talent. It's fun in training camp going against our defense. It's even more fun each and every Sunday showing everybody we are the best in the league in the passing and running game. Knowing what we did last season, I think this season the momentum is going to take over and we are going to greater heights.
"I think we are close. A lot of hard work. A lot of dedication and a little bit of luck anything is possible."
While he wants to see that role on offense grow, he will do whatever is needed, from being a receiver, to special teams, to being a leader.
"I have grown into it. I have embraced it. I have taken it on with full force," said Heyward-Bey. "And my role of being a leader. When I came into the league I was 21 years old and I felt like I didn't have an older guy showing me the way. I embraced the role of a showing the younger guys this is how you become a professional in the league. I think God put me in this position to do that. He wanted me to learn on my own. Since I did learn on my own, I appreciate it a lot more than other people would.
"I want to be able to do it all. I want to score touchdowns, I want to block for the best guys in the league, and I want to make tackles on special teams. Most importantly I want to win a Super Bowl. One thing you want when you walk away when you are done playing, you want to be called a champion and that is what I want to be called."