The Pittsburgh Steelers paid good money—at least by their standards—in order to acquire Morgan Burnett this offseason with the intention of him becoming their full-time starter at one of the two safety spots this year, at the very least serving as a bridge even while they knew full well they were looking to draft at the position.
So far, they have gotten two games, one start, and 92 snaps out of him, as he has been sidelined entirely with a groin injury since the second game of the season. The ninth-year veteran has been dealing with minor soft-tissue injuries almost since he signed his contract, and it was unfortunately predictable based on his recent history.
What is no predictable is when he will be able to get back on the field. Even after the bye week, he is still only participating in a limited capacity in practice despite being well over a month removed from his last appearance in a game.
Even less predictable is if he will even get back on the field when he is able to play, let alone whether or not he will start. The Steelers have simply moved Cameron Sutton into the dimebacker role that Burnett was to have occupied when the defense moved to six-defensive back sets.
The second-year cornerback does not have the size nor experience of Burnett, but he has been growing incrementally week after week with his expanded playing time and is beginning to make more plays on the ball.
For the moment, I do not believe that Terrell Edmunds’ starting role is in jeopardy as long as he continues to perform at a reasonable level, as he has the past couple of weeks. Burnett might be the better player right now, but Edmunds has the youth and athleticism on his side.
The thing is that Burnett has played well when he has been on the field, even in the preseason, but as Head Coach Mike Tomlin likes to say, he is looking to jump on board a moving train, and that’s not an easy thing to do depending upon how fast it’s going (in other words, how well the players in front of him are playing).
Tomlin is not making any assumptions about what Burnett will be for the team in the near future, and perhaps it’s wise as they continue to wait for him to even be able to stack full practices together. I don’t much think that the ‘dollar’ package, which they used on one play, is of any concern here.
It’s unfortunate for his year to have played out the way it has. Injuries in your first year with a new team can be especially trying as you look to establish yourself and prove your worth. I do believe that he could be a quality starter here when healthy. I’m not sure at this point if he will ever have the opportunity to prove it, however.