The Pittsburgh Steelers released three defensive backs at the start of the new league year in what was partially a decision based on their tight salary cap window as well as one centered around the team’s current and future personnel needs. Two of those three defensive backs have already signed with new teams.
The one that was a full-time starter for four seasons is the one that is still looking for a job.
The Steelers gave safety Mike Mitchell the biggest contract that they ever handed out to an outside free agent in 2014 when he agreed to terms on a five-year, $25 million deal on the first day of free agency. He saw four years and $20 million of that prior to his release earlier this offseason, which saved the team his $5 million scheduled base salary.
Also released were veteran reserves William Gay at cornerback and Robert Golden at safety. Both players agreed to terms with new teams last week, Golden signing with the Kansas City Chiefs and Gay with the New York Giants, though neither should anticipate competing for a starting role.
That is likely the reason, or at least a factor in, Mitchell’s continued unemployment as we approach a month since his release. He started 61 of the 61 games that he played in over the course of the past four seasons and is surely looking to resume a starting role with a new team.
The Steelers decided that it wouldn’t be in Pittsburgh, making the decision to release him even before they had a replacement. While J.J. Wilcox was still on the roster, the team ultimately reached an agreement on a three-year contract with veteran Morgan Burnett worth nearly $15 million.
I think there’s a pretty sizable portion of the fan base that would hold up Mitchell as the worst free agent signing in team history, at least if it were not for Ladarius Green, whose health issues—particularly his concussions—prevented him from ever being a meaningful contributor outside of one career-best game.
I have a bit more of a nuanced view of his time in Pittsburgh, though it’s hard to deny that injuries have taken their toll on him over the past two years, and it was especially evident in 2017. He was dealing with a lower body injury going back to training camp and brought it with him into the season.
He likely was never healthy at any point during the year, but one of the biggest questions about him is if he is ever going to be healthy. The question of whether or not he can be a very good player when healthy is moot when you lack the health component.
It will be interesting to see where Mitchell, 30, winds up as he heads into his 10th NFL season and if he can earn the opportunity to compete for a starting job, which will likely at this point come after the draft. Remember, of course, that his signing will come with no compensation for Pittsburgh since he was released.