There was a time that seemed as though once the Pittsburgh Steelers were done with a player, they were done with him for good, at least as far as his active career was concerned. If they lose a player in free agency or trade him, he’s not going to find his way back.
The script has been completely flipped over the years under head coach Mike Tomlin, which even saw him reuniting with some of Bill Cowher’s players over the years, namely Antwaan Randle El and Plaxico Burress. Other two-stoppers included Matt Spaeth, Bryant McFadden (another Cowher player), William Gay, David Johnson, and Al Woods, just off the top of my head.
They added two more names to that list yesterday by claiming Joshua Dobbs off waivers, whom they traded last year, and signing safety Sean Davis, who departed in free agency but did not make the final cut for the Washington Football Team.
This isn’t so much about the reunion effect, however, rather than simply the fact that the re-signing of Davis offers a lot of value. It’s important to keep in mind that this is a player whom they viewed as a starting safety (whether you like it or not) right up until they traded for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Whether or not they would have, or would have been able to, re-sign him in March had the season gone differently, who’s to say, but now he’s back and will be valuable depth.
The move came after the team carried Curtis Riley on the 53-man roster, presumably to serve as the top backup safety, or at least as the top backup free safety. Riley was released and re-signed to the practice squad (as a veteran, he did not have to go through waivers), leaving Davis as the only other safety on the roster with meaningful experience.
Why the change, if they liked Riley? The reason is obvious: experience in the system. Davis spent four years learning under Keith Butler and got the opportunity to see the defense from just about every level, from deep safety to playing up in the box.
Necessarily, he has a great understanding of the intricacies of the defense that Riley, who had only been with the team for a few weeks, would obviously lack. In this season played under a pandemic under all things, teams, including the Steelers, are relying heavily upon familiarity.
What the Steelers plan to do with Davis, if anything, remains to be seen. It wouldn’t shock me if they leave him exclusively as an emergency option to play if there is an injury. It also wouldn’t shock me if they work him into the defense as a sub-package player, either or both in the nickel or the dime.
It’s not unreasonable to assume that, as a former starting nickel, strong safety, and free safety, they may view Davis as just as good an option to play as they do Mike Hilton or Cameron Sutton. Once he gets back up to speed, he could at least see dime snaps, for a team that traditionally prefers to use a third safety over a fourth cornerback.
Either way, the bottom line is that the Steelers just got deeper and more versatile with a greater variety of options by bringing Davis back, somebody who is more familiar with the defense than the majority of its starters.