When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed Morgan Burnett to a three-year contract last offseason, they did so knowing that they were not going to view him as a long-term solution to the safety position. As evidence of that, they wasted no time using their first-round pick the following month on Terrell Edmunds, who would end up taking the starting role.
Edmunds’ emergence led to the Steelers releasing Burnett, who subsequently signed a similar contract with the Cleveland Browns a short time later. The former Green Bay Packers safety, now 30, figures to start alongside his former teammate up north in Damarious Randall. Randall played cornerback for the Packers but was moved to free safety last year when the Browns acquired him in a trade.
But Burnett is not guaranteed a starting spot. In fact, it could be yet another former Packers player who takes over his job, that being Jermaine Whitehead. He has been in the league since going undrafted in 2015 and played for the Packers between 2016 and up until his release in November.
The Browns claimed him off waivers, and he did get some playing opportunities. Though he has only started two games in his career—both last season with the Packers—he reportedly has impressed Cleveland’s staff this spring, and ran some with the first-team defense, putting him in competition for a starting role for 2019.
Whitehead was beginning to gain steam with the Packers before he had an in-game incident against the New England Patriots that resulted in him being ejected, and Green Bay released the second-year player the following week.
Both new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and cornerback Denzel Ward, among others, spoke highly of the 26-year-old, who is a versatile defensive back but was said to have made safety his best position during his time in Green Bay.
The Browns’ previous starter at strong safety was Jabrill Peppers, a first-round pick (one of three) a couple of years ago. The organization included him as part of a trade that brought in All-Pro wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., however, a package that also included first- and third-round draft picks.
Burnett started only one game for the Steelers last year in Week Two. He was injured heading into the regular season to the point where the team was more comfortable with the rookie starting in Week One, the veteran rotating in. But Burnett suffered an injury in the second game that kept him out for weeks, and by the time he returned, he never got his job back with Edmunds playing as an appropriate level.
He ended up being utilized as the dimebacker, a role that he expressed dissatisfaction in playing to Jeremy Fowler when the ESPN journalist reported that Burnett had asked for his release. Now he may lose out on a starting spot for the second year in a row, which could put him back in that dimebacker role he doesn’t care for. He had better stay healthy in training camp this year.