For Artie Burns, it’s ‘get right or get going’ as Steelers minicamp begins
In early May, when the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to exercise the fifth-year option on Artie Burns’ contract, the fourth-year cornerback figured he had two options.
“Get right or get going,” Burns said Tuesday. “It’s that simple.”
Not much has gone right in recent years for the former first-round draft pick, and he could be going … right off the Steelers roster.
With a potential $9.6 million salary in 2020 gone, Burns faces another important deadline, one that will determine if he plays for the Steelers or another team this season.
Burns stands to collect an $800,000 bonus if he is on the Steelers roster July 28. That’s part of a $1.75 million savings the Steelers could have on their salary cap if they release Burns by that date.
With minicamp — the final on-field work until training camp — beginning Tuesday, Burns has only a few days remaining to show he is deserving of a roster spot.
Asked if he feels like he’s playing for a job, Burns said, “Yeah, definitely. If I don’t do what I have to do, it is what it is.”
Burns, who turned 24 in May, is taking the same approach to the roster bonus that he did to the fifth-year option.
“I can’t control that,” he said. “It was a decision the organization made. I can’t control that. What I can control is my actions on the field.”
Burns lost his starting job in Week 3 last season to journeyman Coty Sensabaugh and then alternated series until Week 7 against Cleveland. Sensabaugh started all but one game the rest of the season, and Burns was limited to mostly playing special teams. He played only 15 defensive snaps over the final 10 games.
The Steelers addressed the cornerback position in free agency when they signed Steven Nelson to a three-year, $25.5 million contract and drafted former Michigan State corner Justin Layne in the third round.
Those moves made it all but certain Burns’ fifth-year option would not be picked up by the Steelers. Coach Mike Tomlin piled on in the offseason when a reporter asked if he was a “little” disappointed with Burns.
“Not a little bit disappointed. Disappointed,” Tomlin said.
Burns said Tuesday he was unaware of any criticism from Tomlin.
“I don’t listen to the media,” he said.
Burns, though, didn’t need to be told secondhand his play needs to improve for him to contribute to the Steelers this season.
And he is eager to continue showing his improvement.
“I feel like I’m more focused this year,” he said. “I want to have a much better year than last year.”
With Joe Haden missing most of the 10 organized team activities, Burns got a chance to work with the first-team defense. Haden returned for minicamp Tuesday and noticed an improvement in Burns’ play.
“He’s hungry. He wants it. He wants to be here,” Haden said. “He’s out there trying to make as many plays as he can. He’s taking coaching and not wearing his attitude on his sleeve. He’s coming out every day trying his hardest and trying to get better.”
Burns, however, might not get a chance to prove his worth during the preseason — not if the Steelers cut him before the roster bonus kicks in.
“I’m trying to get physically strong, physically fast. I’m just getting better all the way around,” he said. “The only way you can improve yourself is when game time comes. There’s no magic of offseason work. Unless you don’t come in and make plays in game, there’s nothing else you can do.”
Whether it’s with the Steelers or another team, Burns feels his best is yet to come.
“Whatever I make,” he said, “that’s what I get back in return.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .