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Monday June 27th

Tar Heels in the Pros: Former Tar Heels find new homes in NFL free agency

Former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) stiff arms a Florida State defender in 2016.
Buy Photos Former North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) stiff arms a Florida State defender in 2016.

The 2022 NFL free agency period saw many high-profile athletes leave for new teams. Among a star-studded list of players on new teams are three former North Carolina players who are looking to establish themselves as everyday starters.

Mitchell Trubisky 

The former No. 2 overall draft pick landed on a new team after spending last season as a backup for the Buffalo Bills.

Trubisky will have a chance to compete for the starting job, signing a two-year deal with the quarterback-needy Pittsburgh Steelers. For now, his only competition is Mason Rudolph, who has struggled when given starting opportunities, but the Steelers could add someone else to the competition through the NFL Draft.

A good season in the Steel City will give the former UNC quarterback a chance to rewrite the narratives created early in his career. After leading the Chicago Bears to the playoffs in the 2018 season and earning a Pro Bowl invitation, Trubisky struggled to show improvements in his game, especially with his accuracy.

In 2020, he was benched, only starting nine games for the Bears and compiling just over 2,000 yards after reaching the 3,000 mark in his previous two seasons.

Trubisky had very few chances to shine in Buffalo, playing behind young star Josh Allen, but the Steelers are taking a chance on him. It’s now up to him to prove them right.

Mack Hollins 

Hollins’ NFL career began quietly after being drafted 118th overall by the Philadelphia Eagles. But, he slowly began to find a significant role in the league after signing with the Miami Dolphins in 2019.

He took advantage of an injury-plagued wide receiver to grab some playing time and made some big catches for his team. In 2021, he most famously caught a no-look pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick to eventually help set the Dolphins up for a game-winning field goal.

Hollins has never been a consistent receiving threat, considering the most yardage he has ever compiled in a season is 226, which was in his rookie year. He makes up for that with exceptional special teams abilities and his leadership skills.

Last season, he was named as a captain for the Dolphins despite not being a starter on the depth chart. He will look to assume a similar role on the Las Vegas Raiders. With their newly reloaded wide receiver room, there may not be a lot of targets, but he proved in Miami that he belongs on an NFL roster.

M.J. Stewart

Like Hollins, Stewart had a slower start to his NFL career, getting cut by his first team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, after just two years.

The former Tar Heels defensive back then signed with the Cleveland Browns, where he was on the fringe of the active roster. Stewart’s role in Cleveland would expand the next season, thanks to his ability to play both cornerback and safety. In the 2020 season, he got the only two interceptions of his career and in this past season, he started three games.

Stewart decided to look elsewhere during this free agency at Cleveland to possibly find a chance to start. By signing with the Houston Texans, he may be able to do just that.

The Texans are rebuilding, and they have a lack of talent on both ends of the field. Stewart should find plenty of chances to get playing time and earn a consistent role that can finally jump-start his NFL career.

@ryanheller23

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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