The deadline for NFL teams to pick up the fifth-year option on payers who were selected in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft is now just a few days away and it certainty appears as though the Pittsburgh Steelers won’t be taking that route with cornerback Artie Burns. During a Tuesday morning interview on 93.7 The Fan, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked to comment on Burns and specifically, where the Miami product is currently at in the team’s future plans following him having a very disappointing 2018 season.
“That’s up to Artie,” Colbert said of Burns, who was benched during the first half of last season due to his extremely poor play as a starting cornerback. “Artie came in as a rookie and played pretty good for us that first year and over the last two years he hasn’t. And you know, it’s really a confidence issue with Artie. Artie lost his confidence and wasn’t where we needed him to be and was replaced in the starting lineup.”
While Colbert’s recap of of what has happened to Burns so far through his first three seasons in the NFL might sound a bit harsh, it’s certainly the truth. Burn’s benching last season had to happen and when he was finally given an opportunity late last season to show that he could rebound, he disappointed the Steelers coaches yet again in very limited playing time. All of that said, it sounds like Burns is still doing his best to overcome his disappointing 2018 season and thus prove that he can be the team’s starting cornerback once again.
“He’s had a good offseason,” Colbert said Tuesday morning of Burns. “He’s only been with us for the last week and a half in the phase of the workouts we’re in, but we had good meetings with him. He wants to be back where he was. He certainly has the talent to be and he works at it. He’s just got to find that confidence again. And if he does, he can be a successful NFL starter. But he knows it, we know it and it’s been talked about and we’re encouraged by his wanting to be back where he needs to be. And if he gets there, great, that’ll be good for him, it will be good for us and we’re going to support that and see where it goes.”
The Steelers spent one of their nine draft selections this year on a cornerback as they picked Michigan State product Justin Layne, a former high school-wide receiver-turned-college-cornerback, in the third-round. While Layne certainly appears to have some upside to him coming out of college, it would be a stretch to expect him to see the field as a cornerback during his rookie season barring a few injuries to those ahead of him on the depth chart. Can Burns do enough between now and the start of the regular season to warrant him being ahead of Layne on the depth chart? We’ll have to wait and see.
A noteworthy item in regard to Burns that might be worth paying attention to later during the summer is that he’s due an $800,000 roster bonus on the third day of the team’s training camp this year. In summation, the Steelers would save $1,757,862 in 2019 salary cap space prior to roster displacement by releasing Burns ahead of paying him his roster bonus. That overall savings, however, isn’t a lot, so unless the Steelers are willing to and able to trade Burns to another team prior to the start of training camp, odds are good he’ll be back in Latrobe again this year competing for a roster spot.
The Steelers entered Phase Two of their annual offseason program with four cornerbacks who have previously played defensive snaps for them in a regular season game. Those cornerbacks are Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton and Burns. Hilton, however, has mainly been a slot cornerback during his time in Pittsburgh while Sutton, who might be best-suited to make a move to free safety this offseason, hasn’t played a lot of defensive snaps on the outside since he was drafted a few years ago. While former draft pick Brian Allen is still with the Steelers, he’s yet to play any defensively in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh. The Steelers, however, did sign an experienced free agent cornerback this offseason in Steven Nelson, formerly of the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s expected to open the 2019 regular season as a starter opposite Haden.