About this same time last year, discussions about whether or not the Pittsburgh Steelers would ultimately pick up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Bud Dupree later in the spring were starting to heat up. It was a somewhat debatable topic based on Dupree’s performance during his first three seasons in the NFL. While there were several great arguments against the Steelers picking up Dupree’s fifth-year option for the 2019 season, the organization decided it was worth doing just the same. Fast forwarding now to this offseason, the Steelers fifth-year option decision in regard to cornerback Artie Burns should be a much less debatable one. In short, the Steelers should, and likely will, decline exercising it.
Burns, the Steelers first-round selection in the 2016 NFL Draft out of Miami, had a very disappointing 2018 season that included him starting just 6 games on his way to registering just 19 total defensive tackles, one pass defensed and one forced fumble. After allowing 17 receptions for 281 yards and 4 touchdowns on 24 total targets in the Steelers first six regular season games of 2018, Burns was benched. Those first six games that he played in also included him incurring 6 penalties on defense with one other one being called against him later in the season.
From the Steelers bye week and on, Burns played all of 15 defensive snaps with 10 of those coming later in the team’s Week 10 blowout win over the Carolina Panthers. While Burns did play nearly 200 special teams snaps throughout the season, he registered just 3 total tackles as part of those units in addition to incurring two more penalties. The 9 total penalties called against Burns during the 2018 season resulted in him ending the year tied for the team lead with Dupree.
While many fans of the Steelers are already calling for the team to cut Burns prior to the start of the new league year in March, such a transaction is probably unlikely to happen. While Burns is reportedly due an $800,000 roster bonus during the offseason as part of the four-year contract that he signed in 2016, a 2017 unconfirmed report by Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk indicated that’s not due the cornerback until the third day of training camp. With Burns set to earn a base salary in 2019 of $957,862, the Steelers will likely carry him on their offseason roster to see how he does during the offseason practices before deciding if he warrants bringing to training camp.
The deadline for the Steelers to pick up Burns 2020 fifth-year option year for this offseason will likely be around the first of May, and thus after the 2019 NFL Draft takes place. That 2020 option-year amount is also likely to come in at around $10 million or more. In summation, we should expect that deadline date to pass without the Steelers taking any action. It should be an easy decision for the Steelers just like it was in 2016 when the team declined to pick up the fifth-year option on outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. While Jones did go on to play out his final contract year with the Steelers, it wound up being his last season in the NFL as he failed to make the roster of the Arizona Cardinals in 2017 after signing with them as an unrestricted free agent earlier that offseason.
Should Burns go on to make the Steelers roster this season, it will likely be as a backup unless he has a miraculous turnaround during training camp and the preseason. If he fails to even make it that far, Burns will go down as perhaps the Steelers worst first-round draft pick since general manager Kevin Colbert was hired in 2000.