The Pittsburgh Steelers will in all likelihood obliged safety Morgan Burnett’s as-yet informal request to be released sometime before the start of the new league year. When that happens, he will be the fourth safety that they have released in the past two offseasons after parting with Mike Mitchell, J.J. Wilcox, and Robert Golden in 2018.
So what will remain after the Steelers relieve themselves of Burnett? Well, they will have their two starters in Sean Davis and second-year Terrell Edmunds. Behind them they will retain veteran Jordan Dangerfield and fellow second-year Marcus Allen, both of whom received a small smattering of on-field playing time on defense in highly specialized roles.
Is that a group that they can be content with, or will they go back to the drawing board and make further investments in the position? Given their proclivity for using the dime defense, I would guess it’s highly unlikely they intend to enter the offseason with just four safeties they are comfortable with.
There is also veteran Nat Berhe recovering on the injured reserve list, as well as first-year Malik Golden, who has gotten injured in the preseason two years in a row, but it’s unclear, perhaps unlikely, that they would project either of them for the 53-man roster in 2019.
The dime package was the defensive look that the Steelers used most frequently in 2018, and the vast majority of the time, that package featured three safeties. Burnett was that third safety for most of the time in that look, and if he is to be released, there will obviously be a hole there.
It’s unlikely that they feel comfortable enough in the development of Allen to head into the 2019 season without further addressing the safety/dimebacker role. Even if he does prove capable of delivering in that capacity, it would not be good business to offer no challenge to an untested player.
The safety position has seen a substantial amount of turnover over the course of the past year or so, with Davis being the only consistent presence since 2016. Dangerfield has been around, but he was not on the 53-man roster in 2017, even though he has been a member of the organization even longer than Davis.
If they really valued him as I might have thought in the past, however, he would have been on the field more in that dimebacker role already when Burnett was out, so the Steelers are probably not weighing him very heavily in considering what they need to do to address the safety position on defense for 2019.
They have plenty of needs, with the biggest holes on defense still being cornerback and inside linebacker—and outside linebacker—but parting with Burnett will open up yet another area of the roster they will want to try to address in some way over the course of the next few months.