The next two weeks are a potentially crucial time for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2016 first-round draft pick, cornerback Artie Burns. While it’s actually nothing new and something we have already written about, since it’s being recycled I thought it would be worth reminding.
Like Chris Boswell, Burns has a bonus due toward the start of training camp, which is worth $800,000. Unless Boswell, that bonus has not been pushed back. So unless something changes, if he is on the roster in training camp, he is going to get that bonus money.
That’s not nearly the ask of handing a kicker with the yips $2 million, which would have been the case for Boswell, but considering that the Steelers already went out and invested in the cornerback position this year—Burns will have a hard time even making the team, period—there’s a more than reasonable chance they won’t want to take a $800K chance on finding out if he can ‘bounce back’.
The team has already decided not to pick up his fifth-year option. They already have starters in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson. Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton are already ahead of him on the depth chart, and then there is rookie third-round pick Justin Layne, not to mention Brian Allen.
If the extent of his contributions in 2019 is going to be as a jammer on the punt return team, then it’s going to be hard to justify carrying Burns. Of course they would like to have the opportunity to see what he can do, but at this point it’s a luxury.
And perhaps one they would be better off not trying to afford. They could use that four fifths of a million dollars as part of their in-season cushion against the salary cap in the event of an emergency such as an injury.
There are five practices between now and the start of training camp: the final two sessions of OTAs today and tomorrow, and then the three-day minicamp next week. Burns might have to really show up his ability and his improved confidence to sneak his way into training camp.
With the roster bonus, Burns is projected to hold a salary cap hit of roughly $3 million this year, but nearly half of that is from prorated signing bonus money. His base salary is just over $950,000. They would save that minus displacement against the cap if they carry him into training camp and he doesn’t make the team. They could add another $800,000 on top of that if he is released before then.
And considering that the Steelers currently only have roughly $1 million in salary cap space, that bonus figure is far from insignificant. If the situation were different and he were realistically competing for a starting job, things might be much different, but don’t be surprised if he is a ‘surprise’ release over the course of the next two months.