2021 Offseason Questions: Is Safety Depth Being Overshadowed By Losses At Cornerback?

Safety Terrell Edmunds

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion — though the wrong kind of spectacular — in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row. Pittsburgh went 1-4 in the final five, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason, resulting in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions. And right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football is a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked. Though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Is the need at safety being overshadowed by the losses at the cornerback position?

When you take a look at the cornerback position and see both Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton, a pair of established starters, gone, you might begin to worry. Even accepting Cameron Sutton as a legitimate replacement for one of them, that still leaves another spot.

There are some options, including the young Justin Layne and James Pierre, as well as a veteran in Trevor Williams, who could emerge as a factor this offseason. But it’s clearly a significant step back from the top four at the position a year ago.

And yet, the Steelers are even thinner at safety. Of course they have Minkah Fitzpatrick tying everything together, and Terrell Edmunds has developed into his more than serviceable complement. But what is there behind them, after Sean Davis left?

As of this writing, the only two reserve safeties on the roster are 2020 sixth-round pick Antoine Brooks Jr., who the team sees more as a dimebacker, and John Battle, a former undrafted free agent who hasn’t ever been on a roster, and spent all of last season on the practice squad.

Depth at cornerback is an issue, yes, but it is at safety, too. The Steelers have lost four defensive backs from last season’s 53-man roster. The Steelers have been lucky so far with Fitzpatrick and Edmunds staying healthy. But that could be an issue more than ever this year if they don’t add somebody to the depth chart.

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