Steelers offseason positional outlook: Safeties
Editor’s note: This is Part 10 of a 12-part series breaking down the Pittsburgh Steelers at each position in the offseason. All salary cap information courtesy spotrac.com.
Last offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers flooded their roster with new safeties. Now they are tasked with continuing to sort out all of it.
The Steelers turned over much of their safety position room after 2017, letting go Mike Mitchell, J.J. Wilcox and Robert Golden and bringing in veterans Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe (free agency) and rookies Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen (draft picks). The results were mixed, and the Steelers begin ‘19 with questions about their future at the position.
The immediate future at the top of the depth chart seems relatively set: Edmunds was solid as a rookie strong safety, and Sean Davis transitioned nicely in his third season from in the box to the defense’s proverbial center fielder.
But with the Steelers, like many other NFL teams playing more three-safety sets, it is more important than ever to have a third and fourth safety who are reliable. Also, a decision needs to be made about the longterm future of Davis, who is entering the final season of his rookie contract and is eligible for an extension.
Davis hasn’t necessarily been a star since he was drafted in the second round in 2016, but he hasn’t been a liability, either. At 25 years old with three-plus years in the defense, Davis profiles as the type of player the Steelers usually award with a second contract.
He has missed only one game in three years, and he has started games at three positions. Davis wears the “green dot” associated with play-calling/communication responsibilities on defense, and he suddenly has become of the secondary’s more veteran voices.
If the Steelers let Burnett go, Davis would trail only Joe Haden as the secondary’s longest-tenured NFL player. And if the Steelers cut ties with Artie Burns, he will be the defensive back who has been with the team the longest.
The challenge could be in agreeing to contract terms. But historically — with rare exception — the Steelers have kept virtually every free agent they have wanted to keep.
One player they probably won’t want to keep another season is Burnett, a 10-year veteran who will cost $6.47 million if he is on the roster in 2019 but only $2.833 million if he is not. Now 30 years old and coming off a debut season with the Steelers in which he missed five games and was merely a subpackage player, it is likely the Steelers would prefer the cap space.
A special teamer who missed the final 12 games on injured reserve, Berhe is also an unrestricted free agent who probably won’t be back. Longtime Steeler Jordan Dangerfield, who first was signed by the team more than five years ago, will be back after assuming an increased defensive role in 2018.
A fifth-round pick who stayed on the 53-man roster all season, Marcus Allen is a player to whom the Steelers gave a virtual redshirt. Is he the answer to replace Burnett as a de facto No. 3 safety? Another Penn State alum, Malik Golden, is another possibility at safety (or special teamer) in 2019 after he missed ‘18 because of a torn ACL.
The Steelers, to some degree, will look externally to add to their safety group — but probably not as much as they did last offseason.
Up Next: Cornerbacks
Offseason outlook: Safeties
• Sean Davis, 1 year left on contract, $1.3 million cap hit for 2019
• Terrell Edmunds, 3 years left on contract, $2.43 million cap hit for 2019
• Morgan Burnett, 2 years left on contract, $6.47 million cap hit for 2019
• Marcus Allen, 3 years left on contract, $643,159 cap hit for 2019
• Malik Golden, injured reserve
• Jordan Dangerfield, exclusive rights, $555,000 cap hit in 2018
• Nat Berhe, unrestricted, $630,000 cap hit in 2018
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .