What does the year 2019 hold for Artie Burns? The Pittsburgh Steelers pretty much already established that they have no illusions of him being a start for them going forward after they signed Steven Nelson to a three-year, $25.5 million contract, the largest ever handed out to a player during the free agency period by the organization.
A 2016 first-round draft pick, Burns found immediately playing time as a dime defender before becoming the outside nickel defender full-time a few games later. He was the full-time outside starter by the middle of his rookie season, during which he recorded three interceptions and seemed to have a bright and rising future ahead of him.
Fast forward two years later and he is looking at the very real possibility that he fails to make the roster in 2019. Burns was demoted from a full-time starting position after two games in 2018, rotating with Coty Sensabaugh, and the latter took over the spot full-time after the bye week for the final 10 games, Burns only seeing a handful of snaps due to injury.
His biggest problem, outside of a seeming shattered confidence and an inability to trust his game, more concretely was simply giving up big plays. It got to a point at which he was good to give up at least one big play, it not a big play for a touchdown, every game.
General Manager Kevin Colbert talked this offseason about the need for the young cornerback to rediscover his confidence, but doing so won’t guarantee that he will have a job come September. Even if he ends up being one of the five or six best cornerbacks on the roster, there remains the potential that he will be moved.
He doesn’t have a massive cap hit, almost half of which is prorated from his original signing bonus, about $1.3 million. He is due a base salary of under $1 million, but would also receive a roster bonus if he makes the team worth $800,000. The team would save a bit under $1.8 million prior to displacement whether they cut him now or in September.
Without him, they already have five cornerbacks returning from last season or replaced by an established player. Their depth chart absent Burns looks something like this: Joe Haden, Nelson, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, and Brian Allen. The top three are already relatively solid in terms of their roles, and Sutton has proven to be a player they trust to play.
Add in the fact that the team seems to prefer the idea of using more safety-heavy packages and there is less of a burden on carrying numbers at cornerback. In fact, for a stretch in 2018, they carried seven safeties on the roster, and finished with six.
The concern with Burns is that he is a good practice player, and that could provide false hopes for a turnaround. I think he’ll need to be extensively tested during the preseason, perhaps seeing snaps with the first-team defense in place of Haden, in order to get an indication of whether he is really worth carrying for another season.
I’ll just put this out there: the New York Giants were able to trade Eli Apple in October of last year to the New Orleans Saints for a 2019 fourth-round pick and a 2020 seventh-round pick. Frankly, it would be nice to get anything for him, as they did for Sammie Coates and Ross Cockrell recently.