I mean, I get it, kind of. Contingency plans are important to have and all, and at the moment it sounds as though the Pittsburgh Steelers are banking on having a couple of contingency plans at the safety position heading into the 2018 season. But it ought not deter them from making every effort to avoid the contingency.
The team is reportedly expected to release four-year starting free safety Mike Mitchell, but remain open to potentially bringing him back at a reduced salary. He was in line to earn a base salary of $5 million in 2018. How much could he find on the open market?
Also, additional reporting indicates that the Steelers are open to the idea of J.J. Wilcox, whom they acquired via trade, being their starter this year. This reeks of the sunk cost fallacy, even if they didn’t give up a ton for him. He is scheduled to make over $3 million in base salary, but reportedly they would like to rework his deal, perhaps with a pay cut.
Neither of these are adequate solutions for the safety position. At best, they are mediocre band-aids, and that is not enough. I understand that they are likely approaching the offseason in a way that sees them view Mitchell or Wilcox as something of an emergency option, but they really ought to do everything in their power to avoid that.
I recognize that perhaps Wilcox has not been given a chance to start yet, and yes, he did not have much time to learn the defense, and not everybody can be expected to come in and adapt quickly as Ross Cockrell and Joe Haden did in the past few seasons.
But when he did play, he made physical errors that had nothing to do with knowing a defensive system. There’s a reason that the Dallas Cowboys were willing to walk away from him, and why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ready to trade him before he even played a down for them.
At this point, neither Mitchell nor Wilcox, I think, is capable of delivering a performance that could be categorized as above the line. The Steelers should be able to acquire somebody via free agency or the draft, or perhaps even both, at the safety position that would allow them to move on from both of these veterans.
Personally, I might even prefer Robert Golden as a bridge option starter over Wilcox. I know opinions on Golden are not high either, but if anything, that should be taken as a sign of where we are at the position right now.
The best-case scenario for Wilcox should be a pay cut and he gets to keep his roster spot as depth. I think Alex Kozora will have even more to say about that later on today.