In the beginning of May, the Pittsburgh Steelers elected not to pick up the fifth-year option on starting safety Terrell Edmunds, scheduling him to be a free agent at the end of the 2021 season. The beginning of Edmunds’ career has had its ups and downs from his selection with the 28th overall selection in the First Round of the 2018 NFL Draft. The selection of Edmunds on Day One left many, including myself shocked that he was taken as high as he was given his lack of refined play coming out of Virginia Tech. Here was the blurb I wrote up on Edmunds during my 2018 draft analysis of his play in lead up to his selection:
Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech: Big safety prospect (6’2, 220lb), that demonstrates similar athletic gifts that his brother Tremaine possesses, has great speed and explosiveness but can stand to use it more on the field, short area quickness needs work, shows great ability close to the LOS and can be an effective blitzer/ chase tackler but must show that he can be more consistent in his tackling, not fluid in deep coverage but has shown the ability to run with receivers/tight ends in the seam and play out of the box in coverage, tested off the charts but needs time to develop into his body, some may be tempted to take him 2nd Round but fits more in 3rd Round as a guy that can develop into a high quality SS with work on tackling consistency/zone coverage.
Needless to say, when Pittsburgh made him their selection in Round One given the fact I had a Day Two grade on him, I was frankly devastated. I tried to do more film study after the pick to justify the selection, and besides the obvious athletic upside he possesses as a bigger-bodied safety prospect standing 6’1, 217lb, I couldn’t bring myself past the notion that the pick felt like a reach at the time. Nearly four years later and the Steelers opting not to pick up his option; it feels as if that initial perception of the pick has come to fruition.
However, I wanted to dive into Edmunds’ more recent tape to see how he has improved since his rookie season to see if he is worthy of earning a second contract with the team in the offseason. What stood out initially was something I wrote in his scouting report: his ability to play well in run support close to the LOS blitzer and chase tackler. He plays with a lot of effort in pursuit and does a great job filling his gap in the run game. Here against the Bengals this past season, we see a couple plays where Edmunds gets in on the action against the run and contributes to key stops.
He has gotten a better sense with starting experience in terms of his ability to flow to the football and arrive in position to make the tackle. Good example here against the Eagles where the pre-snap motion takes Edmunds into the box where he reads the run and shoots the gap to stop #26 Miles Sanders for no gain on the play.
Being a bigger defensive back with good athleticism, Edmunds can bring the boom stick when he has the chance. We see that here on this downhill hit on #30 Austin Ekeler on the screen play, dislodging ball from man on the incompletion.
That being said, the statement in the scouting blurb above stating he needs to be more consistent in his tackling still holds true going into 2021. While Dave and Alex highlighted in the Terrible Podcast this past week that Edmunds’ missed tackle percentage has decreased from over 12% in 2019 to around 9% in 2020, his tendencies to duck his dead and dive tackle through a ball carriers’ legs can lead to missed attempts like we see he on Kareem Hunt.
In terms of coverage, Edmunds is effective when asked to play what is in front of him and come downhill, much like he does in run support, to impact the pass. Here against the Browns, we see great effort to come down on the TE running to the flat on the right side, getting right on his shoulder and playing the ball as it approaches the receiver’s hands, forcing the incompletion.
Edmunds mostly benefits when asked to play in off-coverage where he can roam and play off the QB’s eyes in coverage, being able to run up to a spot to make a play on the football. Two of Edmunds’ three INTs can in the same game against Jacksonville in 2020 where on the first play he undercuts the route and tips the ball to himself, and the second play is an overthrow by #6 Jake Luton and Edmunds capitalizes by running right into the path of the arid pass for the turnover. Neither pick was high-quality, but Edmunds was able to capitalize on such opportunities given to him.
While he has been steady in coverage, his ability to run downfield with receivers is still shaky as mentioned in the scouting report above, lacking the instincts and fluidity to get his head turned back to the ball, leading to unnecessary pass interference calls. Take, for example, this play against the Rams where Edmunds runs through the body of Cooper Kupp before the ball even arrives to the receiver, deliberately getting the PI call from the official.
Or this play on the right sideline against Baltimore where Edmunds does basically the same thing, running through the torso of #13 John Brown, putting his forearm into his chest before the ball arrives and knocks him out of bounds before he can attempt to make the catch. These are a couple examples where Edmunds needs to play with more spatial awareness to not give the offense easy yards on plays where he is in position to defend the pass.
Edmunds also can trust his eyes too much and have them get caught in the backfield when he needs to be focused on coverage. In this game against the Ravens, we see Edmunds freeze for a second with his eyes in the backfield, allowing the slot receiver to get behind him and wide-open down the middle of the field for the big chunk play on the busted coverage.
Along with his inconsistent eyes, Edmunds can misjudge his angle to the ball when trying to use his range to impact the pass. On this play against Arizona in 2019, we see Edmunds roll to the sideline from the split safety look from deep-half of the field but misjudges the angle and is too short on flowing to the sideline, watching the ball sail over his outstretched arms right into the hands of an open #31 David Johnson for the score.
Edmunds in deep coverage obviously isn’t the athlete or technician that his counterpart Minkah Fitzpatrick is. However, as a slot defender in the nickel/dime backer role, Edmunds has definitely improved since his days with the Hokies. Watch this rep against the Colts this past season where Edmunds is split out in the slot against #84 Jack Doyle and does a good job staying on his back hip and playing the pass on the route to the sideline, forcing the incomplete pass. Doyle isn’t the greatest athlete by any means, but Edmunds is in good position to make the play.
While it should be expected that Edmunds should be able to competently cover TEs in the slot, we have seen him improve in his coverage against slot wide receivers as well. Here against Seattle, we see Edmunds matched up with #16 Tyler Lockett in the slot. Lockett runs the corner route to the left sideline, but Edmunds stays with him in man coverage, closing distance as the ball arrives to Lockett close to the sideline where Edmunds actually gets his head turned around to the football and reaches his hand out to defense the pass for the big pass breakup.
While it has been well-documented that Edmunds has had a lack of splash plays since entering the league, his overall play and consistency has improved with more playing time. Does this make him worthy of a contract extension to stick around in Pittsburgh? Yes, but if the price is right. Should Pittsburgh have picked up his option, they would have fully guaranteed him $6.753 million in 2022. This would likely give Edmunds and his camp the notion that this number should be the floor when starting contract negotiations. Instead, Pittsburgh was wise to call Edmunds’ bluff, making him play out his final year and show the team he can make more of an impact in the splash play department and deserve a higher annual salary amount than the probably view he is worth at the current moment.
I went to Over The Cap to look at other starting safety salaries along with player with comparable statistics/roles for their respective defenses, and the likes of Vonn Bell of the Bengals and Chuck Clark of the Ravens stood out as steady players around the same age of Edmunds, but lack the number of splash plays to receive elite safety money for the position.
With Clark earning an average annual salary of $5.1 million and Bell at $6 million, it is reasonable to place Edmunds around that area of solid, yet unspectacular producers at the safety position. So instead of just handing him what Pittsburgh may have seen as a generous $1 million increase of average worth in salary, they wanted to play it out with Edmunds to see if he can take a step forward or is more-or-less the same player he has been so far in his short NFL career.
Initially, I would’ve been against the resigning of Edmunds given my bias on making him a first-round selection. However, after more film study, I do recognize his worth to the defense as a steady producer that is more of a B-caliber player than an A-caliber guy like T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, etc. Should he be willing to sign for a modest multi-year extension in that 4-6-million-dollar range annually, he can be a glue guy that keeps a starting spot filled rather than creating another hole that Pittsburgh would have to address with an early round selection or free agent signing when they can use those resources to address CB, OT, QB, along with other positions of need in 2022.
Should Edmunds demand a contract of greater annual value than Pittsburgh feels he is worth, then it makes sense to let his test the FA market to see if he can get that big deal and potentially welcome him back should he fail to cash in like he may hope to in the 2021 offseason.
What are your thoughts on Terrell Edmunds heading into 2021? Do you think he warrants a contract extension at the end of the season or that Pittsburgh should let him walk and get a replacement via the draft or free agency? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading?