We’re now a few days into the 2019 NFL league year and safety Morgan Burnett still remains on the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers. With the veteran surviving the team’s pre-free agency deletions, there’s probably now a good chance the Steelers hold on to Burnett until at least through the 2019 NFL Draft.
Usually the Steelers release a few players prior to the start of each league year and after those cuts are made they generally stand pat until right after the draft. Last year the Steelers released cornerback William Gay, safety Robert Golden and safety Mike Mitchell right at the start of the new league year and while safety J.J. Wilcox was surprisingly retained through the start of the new league year, the Steelers ultimately cut him not long after the draft was over.
A few weeks ago, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked during his annual scouting combine media session if Burnett has yet to communicate his reported desire of wanting out of Pittsburgh after just one season. His response, however, didn’t reveal much as to if the team would cut the veteran safety ahead of the start of the league year.
“Players will talk to us, again, about their situation,” Colbert said in Indianapolis. “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.”
Burnett, in case you forgot, reportedly made it known several weeks ago that he wanted out of Pittsburgh after just one season with the Steelers because he apparently didn’t like the way that he was used in the defense. The former longtime member of the Green Bay Packers is set 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.
The Steelers may have tried to trade Burnett the last few weeks and might continue to do so through the draft. Even so, it would be surprising to see a team trade for Burnett and his $5 million salary after he missed several games last season due to groin and back injuries. The Steelers obviously weren’t hurting for salary cap space at the start of the 2019 league year so that’s probably why they decided to hold on to Burnett for the time being.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the Steelers don’t currently have many experienced safeties on their roster as outside of Burnett, Sean Davis and Jordan Dangerfield, the team only has youngsters Terrell Edmunds and Marcus Allen under contract for 2019. Edmunds, by the way, has already seen the field on defense way more than Dangerfield has throughout his entire career. As for Allen, he played less than 20 defensive snaps during his rookie season, by my count. On top of all of that, Davis and Burnett are essentially the only experienced free safety capable players currently under contract with the Steelers.
Assuming the Steelers continue to hold on to Burnett through the draft, it’s hard to imagine the safety sticking around much longer after that event ends and especially if the team is able to select another dimeback capable safety in the first few rounds. Like last year, cutting Burnett after the draft this year the way Wilcox was makes the most sense. After all, the Steelers probably don’t want Burnett in the team facility come the start of OTAs for fear that he might injure himself severely. Additionally, cutting Burnett prior to the start of OTAs would presumably save the team the $50,000 workout bonus money the player is due as well.
If the Steelers plan is to ultimately release Burnett after this year’s draft, they might decide to do so with a June 1 designation. Going that route would clear exactly $5.05 million in salary cap space come June 1 and that amount is roughly what the Steelers will likely want to have available for in season moves. The only drawback to designating Burnett a post June 1 release is that the team will carry over a dead money charge of $1,416,668 in 2020.
Should, however, Burnett continue to stick on the Steelers roster well after the draft is over and into the start of the team’s OTA sessions, then perhaps they’ll be doing so with the idea he’ll be part of the 2019 team. Personally, I can’t see that happening, but I also thought the Steelers would have parted ways with Burnett by now.