The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Pending free agent cornerback Artie Burns will be able to turn his career around on another team.
Explanation: For just the second time since the fifth-year option was created in 2011, the Steelers chose not to exercise said option for cornerback Artie Burns, their first-round pick in 2016. Set to hit free agency after losing his job the past two years, he is hoping to make a career turnaround similar to that of fellow 2016 first-round cornerback Eli Apple.
While he is likely not going to ever recover his ‘pedigree’, so to speak, in changing the narrative that he is a first-round bust, there is no reason to believe that Burns cannot in time earn another starting job for another team. He does have the physical ability to play the position, and one does have to question just how good the Steelers’ coaching at the position is, as they have struggled to develop their own draft picks here for many years.
To compare Burns to Apple, the latter was traded from the New York Giants to the New Orleans Saints during his third season. He has started every game he’s played for the Saints, including 15 games last season, and while he hasn’t been flashy, he has been largely competent and is set to hit free agency himself. He is estimated to earn a starting-level contract averaging around $5 million per season.
While it’s easy to make a comparison to another player, they are never one-for-one comparisons. The issues that Burns has had since the beginning of his career remain as visible as ever through four seasons, and at that point it’s hard to imagine another coaching staff being able to change that.
There are always teams who believe they can bring a player in whom they valued and turn his career around. The Steelers thought they could do that with Justin Gilbert. While Burns was a little better than Gilbert, there’s no reason to believe he’s much more likely to earn a stable starting job going forward.