Despite the fact that he has been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most significant free agent acquisition in some time—or at least in part because of it—veteran safety Mike Mitchell has been and continues to be a polarizing figure three years into his tenure with the team.
Mitchell signed a five-year, $25 million contract with the Steelers, with the base salary escalating over the life of the contract, so it will be in his final two seasons that he sees the most money as base salary, which is $5 million I believe. With the prorated signing bonus and a previous restructure, his cap hit is making some raise their eyebrows without fully understanding what it implies.
Never the less, the point is that Mitchell has his fair share of critics when it comes to his play, but if there is one facet that he brings to the team I feel is not deserving of criticism, it would be the leadership role that he has taken upon himself, especially this past season as the Steelers merge into a younger secondary.
The 29-year-old’s influence on rookie starting safety Sean Davis last season in particular was a key ingredient in the second-round pick being able to be integrated into the starting lineup, especially after he was moved out of the slot, where he worked for much of the offseason, at least in part, and in the first few games of the regular season before he was injured.
Davis talked about the ninth-year veteran’s influence with Missi Matthews for the team’s website in a recent sit-down interview. “He has helped me so much”, he said about his partner on the back end. “This was my first year and I didn’t know a lot”.
He talked about the influence of the coaching staff, from defensive coordinator Keith Butler to defensive backs coach Carnell Lake to even head coach Mike Tomlin. “But”, he said, “getting it from a player who is out there, my sidekick, we are out there. He has been there and done it. I don’t have to rely only on experience. I can take it from his wisdom and him making plays out there”.
“I am thankful for him”, Davis said about his teammate and co-starter. He also talked about the role that Mitchell played during his midseason transition from working as the team’s slot cornerback to returning to focusing exclusively on the safety position.
“My head was spinning out there”, he said about playing in the slot. “I wasn’t out of position, but it wasn’t me out there”. He seemed to find himself during the Steelers’ mid-season bye week, as they began rotating him with starter Robert Golden at safety.
The rotation lasted for a couple of games before the role became entirely the rookie’s. And it will be Davis and Mitchell entering the 2017 season as the starting safety tandem. Mitchell’s mentoring role has been important in integrating the young player so early in his career, and that should pay dividends moving in to his second season.