The start of the 2019 NFL league year is now just four weeks away as of today. Before that new year arrives, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to release a player or two and more than likely after the meaningful decision-makers return from the annual scouting combine. One player who we shouldn’t be surprised to see cut in the next month is veteran safety Morgan Burnett, who was signed to a three-year free agent contract just last March. Burnett, in case you’ve already forgotten, reportedly made it known just over a month ago that he wants the Steelers to release him because he wasn’t happy with how he was used last season.
According to a report by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Burnett has said he felt he played out of position as a dime linebacker last season and that he wants a chance to play safety again and that’s why he wants out of Pittsburgh after just one season.
On Wednesday, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked during his session with the local media if Burnett has yet to communicate his desire of wanting out of Pittsburgh like the report made by Rapoport suggested.
“Players will talk to us, again, about their situation,” Colbert said Wednesday. “Coach [Mike] Tomlin does exit interviews with each and every player. They know where they fit and what we felt about them last year, but again, just like I opened up with, or talked about, the Antonio [Brown] situation, whatever move we make with any player, it’ll be for our benefit and our benefit only.”
Colbert obviously didn’t directly answer the question, but it sounds like Burnett has likely let the organization know that he would like out of Pittsburgh. If that’s indeed the case, it’s hard to imagine the player not getting his wish. However, instead of outright releasing Burnett in the next four weeks, perhaps the Steelers will try to find a team willing to trade something for the veteran safety.
While the thought of the Steelers getting anything in return for Burnett is a bit exciting, it’s hard to imagine there being a team out there willing to take on the remaining two-years of the safety’s current contract that includes him being scheduled to earn a $5 million base salary in 2019 in addition to a $50,000 workout bonus. That’s quite a bit a money for a 30-year old safety who has missed numerous games due to injuries over the course of the last four seasons and one who last played in all 16 regular season games way back in 2012.
Burnett missed several games early during the 2018 regular season due to a groin injury. Upon returning from that injury he was mostly used in dime packages. He finished the 2018 season having played 389 total defensive snaps on his way to registering 30 total tackles and 6 defensed passes.
It’s obvious that Burnett won’t be worth the $5 million he’s scheduled to earn from the Steelers in 2019 and especially if he isn’t a starter, which he wouldn’t likely be. If the Steelers were to release Burnett prior to the start of free agency, they would incur a dead money charge in 2019 of $2,833,334. However, if they cut him after the start of the new league year in March they could designate him a post June 1 release if they so desire. But such a move would only defer $1,416,668 in dead money until 2020 and would also require the team to carry Burnett’s full cap charge until June 1. In short, making Burnett a post June 1 cut wouldn’t a great course of action or worth it from a salary cap standpoint.
While Colbert wouldn’t come right and say that Burnett will be released sometime within the next four weeks, I’m sure he’ll come to the conclusion by then that parting ways with the veteran safety is the only way that the Steelers can benefit. If, however, he does somehow shockingly find a team willing to trade for Burnett between now and the draft, he should be showered with praise for such a transaction even though the original signing of the player in the first place will go down as a mistake in the Colbert ledger.