The Pittsburgh Steelers have reportedly released former New England Patriots All-Pro Gunner Oszewski. The return specialist had been with the Steelers since the beginning of the 2022 season. He had spent the first three years of his NFL career as a member of the Patriots.
Olszewski was an undrafted free agent out of Bemidji State. He made the Patriots roster as a UDFA in 2019 after an impressive training camp. He appeared in eight games as a rookie, almost exclusively as a punt returner. This made him one of only three Bemidji State Beavers to ever play in the NFL. Solid but unspectacular, Olszewski averaged 9.0 yards per return. He did enough to earn a job in 2020 and would make the most of it.
Not a lot went particularly well for the 2020 New England Patriots, Tom Brady’s first season playing for another NFL franchise. But despite the team’s first losing season in 20 years, Gunner Olszewski’s performance was a major positive.
In 2020, Gunner Olszewski led the NFL in punt return yardage, punt return average and punt return touchdowns. He was rewarded for his efforts by being named first team All-Pro. Olszewski also handled kickoff return duties for the Patriots that season, averaging a solid 23.2 yards per return.
— Bemidji State Beavers (@BSUBeavers) January 8, 2021
It appeared the future was bright for Olszewski in New England. However, his career as a Patriots player would last only one more season.
The 2021 season was decent for Olszewski, but did not live up to his All-Pro performance from the year before. His kickoff return performance remained largely the same, but his punt return average dropped from 17.3 to 11.9 yards per return. Most costly, Olszewski had three fumbles in 2021, more than his first two seasons combined. With a head coach in Bill Belichick who preaches that “nothing is more important than ball security” the fumbles were the beginning of the end for Gunner Olszewski in Foxboro.
It also did not help that Olszewski’s cause that he was never able to earn more playing time on offense, limiting his role to return specialist. Over his three seasons with the New England Patriots, he had nine receptions for 127 yards and a touchdown. He also carried the ball six times for 32 yards.
Following the season, Gunner Olszewski signed a two-year contract to join the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was set to be a slot receiver, in addition to a return specialist. But more ball security issues with the Steelers, he lost his punt returner job early in 2022. He remained the team’s kickoff specialist and a slot receiver, though continued to contribute very little on offense. When PFN was “Catching Up With 49 Former Patriots Around the NFL” two weeks ago, Olszewski had only played two snaps all season at that point.
According to Alan Saunders of Steelers Now, even Gunner Olszewski was given a few opportunities this season, he failed to take advantage.
“Olszewski also did not play well when given an opportunity due to injuries. He caught a kickoff that was going out of bounds, costing his team 30 yards, and fumbled a catch and a punt return, losing them both.”
With the New England Patriots currently struggling with their own special teams play, and a roster spot open, it will be interesting to see if Bill Belichick is willing to take a gamble on bringing back Gunner Olszewski.