Heitritter: Why Safety Is An Underrated Need This Offseason For The Steelers

We are in the middle of the offseason with the NFL Combine just a week away and the start of free agency shortly following. For the next several months, we will see NFL teams attempt to address needs on their respective rosters via NFL Draft and in free agency, retaining their own free agents while looking outside the organization to sign veteran players to complement their incoming rookie draft classes.

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have a slew of positions that need to be addressed before the take the field in Latrobe to start 2023 training camp. The defensive line is slated to lose several heavy contributors while the off-ball linebacker position could stand to add a starting-caliber player with Devin Bush leaving town. The offensive line could use upgrades on the left side while the same could be said for the cornerback room with Cam Sutton needing to be re-signed while Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III look to be cap casualties in the coming weeks.

However, one position on the roster that has been flying under the radar as a potential big need this offseason is at safety. For many (including myself), it has become a foregone conclusion that FA S Terrell Edmunds will re-sign with the Pittsburgh Steelers after manning the strong safety spot beside Minkah Fitzpatrick the last five seasons since Pittsburgh selected him in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft. They let Edmunds test the market last offseason, signing him back to the team on a cheap, one-year contract after initially declining his fifth-year option.

Edmunds has been solid, yet unspectacular thus far in his NFL career, being a reliable, steady defender in the secondary that just hasn’t produced many splash plays. While he shouldn’t command top dollar on the open market compared to other notable names, Edmunds should expect a pay raise from what he made last season. Backup/third safety Damontae Kazee is also slated to hit free agency this offseason, playing in just nine games this season after breaking his arm in the preseason. He still made a notable impact after the bye though, registering 20 tackles and two interceptions in 273 snaps played.

Both Edmunds and Kazee have expressed a desire to be back in Pittsburgh, but both understand that the NFL is a business and that they both need to do what’s best for them and capitalize on the open market if a deal is presented to net them more money and/or a better role. While Pittsburgh should have the cap space after making a few transactions to re-sign either Edmunds, Kazee, or both, this isn’t a guarantee that both or either of them will be back in the Black and Gold in 2023.

We should expect the Steelers to prioritize bringing back at least one of Edmunds or Kazee this offseason, but it may be tough bringing back both, especially if Pittsburgh does re-sign Cam Sutton to a lucrative contract extension. Should they lose either Edmunds or Kazee, safety would vault up this team’s priority of needs as they would need either a suitable starting strong safety to replace Edmunds or a third safety that can play on the field with Edmunds and Fitzpatrick like Kazee did at times last season, having the versatility to move around in the defensive backfield and step in for either starter should they go down to injury.

Kazee could figuratively step in as the team’s starter at strong safety should Edmunds decide to sign elsewhere, but Pittsburgh would still need a viable #3 safety to fill the role Kazee did last year. It would be hard to see Pittsburgh letting go one of Kazee or Edmunds and decide to go back to the free agent market to sign a veteran instead of retaining two guys that were in the room and played well alongside Fitzpatrick last season. Still, should there be a market for either free agent early, Pittsburgh could sign a veteran who sits out on the open market past the first few waves of free agency prior to the 2023 NFL Draft.

When it comes to the draft itself, there are several notable names that could fill the strong safety position as well as the 3rd safety/dime defender spot in Pittsburgh’s defense. Outside of versatile DB Brian Branch out of Alabama who is widely considered a first round lock and the #1 safety in the class, the safety position looks to be deep with capable starters/role players but lacks overall star power at the top outside of Branch.

Should one of Edmunds or Kazee walk this offseason, we should expect Pittsburgh to try and bring in a veteran free agent signing on a team-friendly deal to secure themselves before the draft and look to address safety somewhere in the middle rounds to find a potential starter/solid #3 safety.

What are your thoughts on the current state of Pittsburgh’s safety room? Do you expect them to retain either Terrell Edmunds, Damontae Kazee, or both this offseason? Will the need to address safety increase if one were to leave, and how do you think Pittsburgh would address the position? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below and thanks again for reading!

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