2023 Offseason Positional Review – Safety

It’s that time of year again. The free-agent signing period starts tomorrow, so before we get there, we’ll go over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

The Steelers have several key players due to become free agents, and a number of large contracts could be salary-cap casualties. A lot will be changing in the near future, but this is where things stand, at each position, as of this writing.

Position: Safety

Total Positional Figure: 9

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Under Contract:

Minkah Fitzpatrick: It turns out this Minkah Fitzpatrick cat might be pretty good. He seemed to have some people fooled in 2021, not even making the Pro Bowl. But it’s the ones who didn’t vote for him who were the fools. His 2022 season proved that.

Tre Norwood: Going into his third season, Norwood has to figure out in which direction his career is going. He showed some potential to be a regular defensive contributor as a rookie, but he fell out of favor last season. That was partly because Damontae Kazee is obviously the better option. But do the Steelers see Norwood as a legitimate No. 3 safety?

Miles Killebrew: Killebrew is a special-teams safety. Let’s make that pretty clear. Whether or not he sees any snaps on defense is most likely going to come down to health. But he’s a solid to above average special-teams player on any given day and he takes a lot of pride in it.

Elijah Riley: Riley has bounced around the league a bit, winding up in Pittsburgh last year. He spent four games active, registering five tackles on 20 defensive snaps and 25 special-teams snaps. He was elevated from the practice squad on Christmas Eve and has been on the 53-man roster since.

Kenny Robinson: Robinson has spent all of his career with the Carolina Panthers before signing a Reserve/Future deal with the Steelers at the end of this past season.

Scott Nelson: the 6’2” rookie out of Wisconsin was a college free agent, spending time with the Seattle Seahawks, including on their practice squad, before signing to the Steelers’ practice squad. He was signed to a Reserve/Future contract at the end of the season.

Pending Free Agents:

Terrell Edmunds: The Steelers’ 2018 first-round draft pick, Edmunds has started nearly every game of his career. While never a Pro Bowl-level performer, most believe he has improved each season, with 2022 being his best. Playing on a bargain deal last season, it remains to be seen what his market will be in 2023 and if it will keep him in Pittsburgh.

Damontae Kazee: Signed to a veteran-minimum deal last year, Kazee didn’t get much chance to improve his market value after missing half of the season and serving as a backup. His quality of play entitles him to more, but it remains to be seen what other teams think. Selfishly, I would welcome his continued deflated market so he remains in Pittsburgh.

Karl Joseph: The former first-round pick suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason and spent the year on the Reserve/Injured List. The Steelers have already been working with him for two years and he’s dressed for just two games. I’m not sure they make it three years.

Offseason Strategy:

I am assuming that the Steelers’ top priority at the position is attempting to retain their own, both Edmunds and Kazee. What I don’t know is how they view Kazee. Would they consider him exclusively as a backup and role player, or would they entertain the possibility of allowing him to compete for a starting job?

Beyond that, there may not be much to do. Both Norwood and Killebrew remain under contract. If the Steelers lose Edmunds in free agency, they would probably move on with Kazee as a starter, but they could pursue other options.

And if they were to lose Edmunds and have only Kazee, it would certainly bump up the safety position as a draft priority. Not that it would be on their radar in the first round, but perhaps by the end of Day Two, and certainly on Day Three.

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