Ian Rapoport reported last night that he spoke to Pittsburgh Steelers safety Morgan Burnett, who told the NFL Network reporter that he would like the organization to release him from his three-year contract that he signed in March 2018.
While he did not cite any issues leading to that desire outside of on-field concerns, his complaints are valid, though also not the Steelers’ problem. He said that he wants to be a starter at safety and that he felt miscast in the dimebacker role that he ended up playing during the vast majority of the season—when he was healthy.
But that was exactly what the plan was, for him to start at safety, and his health is exactly the thing that derailed that plan, as would likely be the case for just about any team with whom he would sign this offseason, provided that Pittsburgh obliges his request, which he reportedly has not yet formally made.
Burnett, who is due a base salary of $5 million in 2019 and would save over 3.6 million prior to roster displacement in cap space if released, was signed to start after the Steelers released Mike Mitchell, J.J. Wilcox, and Robert Golden.
He worked as the starting strong safety during the offseason whenever he was healthy, but he spent so little time actually being healthy that that afforded plenty of opportunities for rookie first-round pick Terrell Edmunds to work in that role, and the veteran’s time off ultimately led to Edmunds earning the starting job full-time.
If his complaint includes the fact that the Steelers actually drafted a safety in the first round after they signed him, then I’m afraid I will have to disagree. He came to Pittsburgh as an eight-year veteran on the cusp of hitting 30 and with a multiple-season history of missing games due to chronic soft-tissue injuries.
It was understandable, arguably even a foregone conclusion, that safety would remain a high priority in the draft despite signing a getting-over-the-hill mid-tier free agent like Burnett. While I certainly have nothing against him and am likely coming across as overly harsh here, the reality is that he was not done wrong in any way by the organization in any way that can be detected from the outside.
The bottom line is that if he were healthy, as should be the expectation for everybody who signs, he in all likelihood would have been the full-time starter for the entirety of this season at least, with Edmunds serving in that dimebacker role.
It was his own lack of availability that led to the circumstances that now have him wanting out of his commitment. He is within his rights to want that, and frankly the Steelers would probably want to release him anyway, as nobody wants to pay a backup $5 million outside of the quarterback position, but nothing about how the situation played out for him is anything the team deserves any blame for.