A veteran safety heading into his 10th season in the NFL, former Pittsburgh Steeler Mike Mitchell is no stranger to the free agency process. Originally drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Carolina Panthers in 2013.
Starting for the majority of the season and putting up productive numbers, including career-highs with four interceptions and three and a half sacks, he turned that one-year success into a five-year, $25 million contract in Pittsburgh.
He ended up seeing four years and $20 million of that deal, the Steelers choosing to release him earlier this offseason, thereby saving them the $5 million base salary he was due. He is now on the open market for the third time in his career, and he feels as though he’s in unfamiliar territory.
“This is the most unique free-agency experience I’ve ever had”, he told Alex Marvez on SiriusXM Radio. Mitchell, released on March 14, continues to search for a new team three months later. Three other defensive backs the Steelers released—safeties Robert Golden and J.J. Wilcox and cornerback William Gay—all found homes much sooner.
He said that it’s “really hard to put a finger on why the reason is”, but the safety class, and the free agency period as a whole, has “been extremely slow”. Among the free agent safeties still available who have not been released are Tre Boston, Eric Reid, and Kenny Vaccaro, three of the top five or so names at the position heading into free agency at the position on most people’s boards. Among the others was Morgan Burnett, whom the Steelers signed to replace Mitchell.
For his part, and the other veteran safeties that for whatever reason continue to remain available, including Tyvon Branch and Darius Butler, Mitchell said that they are all “just staying the course” and “just being as patient as possible”. With the exception of Reid, of course, but that matter is more complicated.
Mitchell described his two previous experiences as going far more smoothly. He described visiting teams and things “happened fairly quickly because we had the right fit with the right amount of compensation”. To date, he is not known to have taken any visits in free agency, however.
With the Steelers, he was their starting free safety for the past four seasons, playing in and starting all but three games during that time, all three missed games coming this past season stemming from a foot injury that he suffered early in training camp.
His best season with the team came in 2016, when he recorded a career-high 80 tackles and had three interceptions and two forced fumbles with nine passes defensed. I thought he was worthy of consideration for the Pro Bowl that year.
But his entire career in Pittsburgh was plagued with injuries, and according to Gerry Dulac, the reason the Steelers decided to move on from him was because they believed he was too banged up to be able to run the way he needs to anymore.