Will Thursday be the final practice in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform for cornerback Artie Burns? Many think it will be as they believe the team will release, or perhaps even trade, the former first-round draft pick out of Miami in lieu of paying him the $800,000 roster bonus he’s currently due at the start of training camp. Obviously, Burns knows he’s not in great standing with the Steelers right now after they chose not to pick up his fifth-year option for the 2020 season before this year’s deadline and upon the start of the team’s mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, he was asked what he gleaned from that organizational decision.
“Get right or get gone,” Burns said Tuesday, according to Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “It’s that simple.”
One doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Burns is fighting for a roster spot this summer after having a dismal 2018 season that included him being benched after the team’s Week 6 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. From that point of the season and on, Burns was primarily used on special with just a few snaps on defense late in a few other games.
“Yeah, definitely,” Burns aid Tuesday when asked if he’s fighting for a roster spot thus summer. “If I don’t do what I have to do, it is what it is.”
In his first three seasons in the NFL, Burns, who will turned 24 on May 1, has registered 141 total tackles, 27 defensed passes and 4 interceptions. He’s also been flagged a total of 33 times during regular season games since being drafted with 11 of those flags being for defensive pass interference. Earlier this offseason, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked if was disappointed in Burns’s play during the 2018 season and he certainly didn’t bite his tongue while answering that question.
“Not a little bit disappointed – disappointed, certainly,” Tomlin said at the annual league meetings in March “Having the ability to carry those talents into a stadium kind of defines us, or inability the do so, so certainly.”
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert also made his thoughts clear on Burns’ potential future in Pittsburgh earlier this offseason as well.
“That’s up to Artie,” Colbert said of Burns this past April. “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.”
Colbert, however, did have some positive comments on Burns back in April.
“He’s had a good offseason,” Colbert said during a radio interview. “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.”
While the Steelers didn’t re-sign the player this offseason who took over for Burns last season when he was benched, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, they did sign former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Steve Nelson to a lucrative free agent contract in March. Nelson is now expected to be the team’s starter in 2019 opposite fellow cornerback Joe Haden with Mike Hilton once again expected to be the starting slot cornerback.
The Steelers also drafted former Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne in the third-round this year and obviously he’ll be on the 2019 53-man roster along with Haden, Nelson and Hilton. And assuming former third-round draft pick Cameron Sutton sticks again on the roster, Burns might have to beat out another former Steelers draft pick, Brian Allen, for a spot on this year’s team. Those six spots fill up fast and that assumes the team will indeed even keep six cornerbacks in total on this year’s 53-man roster.
For at least the next few days, and maybe on in to to training camp, Burns knows that all he can control at this point is his play in practice and then let the chips fall where they may. He made it clear on Tuesday that he’s doing his best to stick around in Pittsburgh a fourth season.
“I feel like I’m more focused this year,” he said. “I want to have a much better year than last year.”