There’s no way of getting around the fact that NFL rosters are cyclical in nature. Every year at a minimum, hundreds upon hundreds of new players enter the labor market for just 32 NFL teams, each of whom field 63 players per season, plus those on injured reserve and other non-active lists.
With hundreds of players drafted every year and just as many if not more coming in as undrafted free agents, it’s inevitable that some of the 2000-plus players with NFL contracts from the season before are going to lose their spots. Some teams see far more turnover than others on a regular basis.
As we get close to the draft, I want to do some risk assessment for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster based on their current needs and how they have handled them in free agency, compared to how they typically go about handling their business in the draft.
Asset: CB Artie Burns
Roster Vulnerability: Low/Medium
Role Vulnerability: Medium/High
Artie Burns could go from being a starting cornerback at the start of the 2018 season to not on the roster in 2019. And, similar to the course of Justin Gilbert and Eli Apple, that course could involve him being traded late in the offseason.
The Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2016, Burns played in the dime immediately before eventually the nickel and then finally starting by the middle of his rookie season. He would intercept three passes that year and looked to be off to a promising start, but nothing has gone particularly well since then.
He has since recorded only one interception and was benched last year. The team began rotating Coty Sensabaugh into his spot after two games, and he was seated permanently after six games. His progression is looking more like Cortez Allen right now than Ike Taylor.
While the team didn’t re-sign Sensabaugh (though it’s still an option), they went out and spent good money to acquire Steven Nelson via free agency, where he will pair with Joe Haden as the starting cornerbacks. That already pretty much confirms that he will not regain his starting role, but it’s not impossible that he earns playing time in sub-packages.
The thing is, he is already ostensibly fifth on the depth chart. Mike Hilton is not his direct competition because he is an inside player and Burns isn’t geared toward playing inside, but when Sensabaugh was injured last year, they played Cameron Sutton over him.
It’s not even clear heading into this summer if they would favor him or Brian Allen if it were to fall that far down the depth chart, but the reality is that the Steelers look like they intend to address the position in the draft as well.
His saving grace could be the fact that they do play him on special teams, and he could expand his role there even further, but they could simply prefer to move on. The ideal situation would be to get something back in trade, which is in the realm of possibility. The team could save upwards of $1.8 million prior to displacement if he is not on the roster, though that could take some finagling with his roster bonus due early in camp.