Putting together a team is by no means solely nor primarily about what you are able to add to the group year in and year out. More than anything, it’s about the pieces that you are able to keep together for a period of years, acquiring talent and giving them the structure to develop together into a cohesive unit.
By and large, the Pittsburgh Steelers do this better than most, and they return among the most snaps from the 2019 season as they head into this year, but they have still lost some significant players from a year ago, some of whom have been with the team for a while, like Ramon Foster, Javon Hargrave, Mark Barron, Anthony Chickillo, and others.
Now that we’ve introduced you to all of the new faces that the Steelers have added to the team since the end of last season, it’s time to take stock of who is gone since then, and what their departure—whether by the team’s will or not—will impact their success or failure in 2020 and beyond.
Player: CB Artie Burns
Years Played: 4 (4 in Pittsburgh)
Snaps Played: 66 (2158 career)
He wasn’t anybody’s favorite player, needless to say, and if he wasn’t drafted in the first round, his time in Pittsburgh would certainly be looked upon more favorably, but you can’t rewrite the past for Artie Burns, who was the Steelers’ top pick in 2016, and peaked early.
Beginning as a dime defender on the outside, he slowly but surely graduated to nickel work and then full-time starting on the outside midway through his rookie season. Over the course of the year, he picked off three passes, more than he would have over the next three years combined.
Part of the reason that he was more successful off the bat is because the defense did more to accommodate him as a rookie, knowing that he would have his lapses. As more and more responsibility was put on his plate, he showed difficulty in handling it all, which resulted in an unacceptable number of blown assignments.
He was demoted to rotational work after two games in 2018, working back and forth with Coty Sensbaugh for the next four games until the bye week. The plan was to give him another shot after the bye, but he was late one day, or something like that, and Sensabaugh was left as a starter. He handled himself reasonably well, and that’s all there was to it.
Last year, Pittsburgh wouldn’t take any chances, signing Steven Nelson in free agency. There were questions about whether or not Burns would even make the team. He did, but even though he started one game when Nelson was hurt, he finished the year as a healthy scratch.
The former Miami product made comments at the end of the season that made it very clear that, no matter what, he was going to look for another opportunity outside of Pittsburgh, where he’d fallen out of favor. He signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears. Jaylon Johnson, a rookie second-round pick, is likely to start over him, but even if the rookie doesn’t start, there are others he is battling. He should make the roster, but he doesn’t look likely to be much better off.
As for Pittsburgh, the Steelers still return the top five cornerbacks from last season, and they didn’t do much to address the position since. They added two rookie undrafted free agents, Trajan Bandy and James Pierre, the former from Burns’ alma mater. It’s far from guaranteed that either stick as a sixth corner.