With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway, following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading — through free agency, through the draft, and perhaps even through trades.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball and one getting older on defense. Both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: Damontae Kazee should be the Steelers’ starting strong safety in 2023.
Explanation: It remains unknown whether the team intends to also re-sign Terrell Edmunds, who has been a starter for the past five seasons, but Kazee is a more than qualified starter in his own right. The Steelers had the luxury of signing him as a reserve last season. Now he’s back on a cheap two-year contract.
The Steelers have more dynamics and flexibility with Kazee than they do with Edmunds. The latter is not strictly a box safety by any means, but Kazee is more versatile and can play anywhere in the secondary and up in the box.
Critically, he offers much more big-play potential with 14 career interceptions and seven career forced fumbles. Edmunds has only intercepted five passes in his career and has never forced a fumble. He has gone two of five seasons since entering the league without forcing a single turnover.
Edmunds is the bigger player, but Kazee is capable of playing above his weight, and he is the superior coverage player, even capable of lining up in the slot. And making him the starter doesn’t automatically preclude the Steelers from re-signing Edmunds, even if it might be a difficult pill to swallow.
It may well serve Pittsburgh to feature a three-safety look as their base package this season, or at least their primary sub-package. They were very encouraged by what they saw with Minkah Fitzpatrick, Edmunds, and Kazee together last season, and they likely want to continue doing that.
In such a case, it makes more sense to leave Edmunds on the field as the every-down safety, as he is more equipped to handle the rigors of early-down work, more fit to play up in the box. Kazee could still be employed in more obvious coverage situations.
They could even use the two of them selectively in scenarios in which they only have two safeties on the field. If you have players with varying strengths, why not make use of them where they best fit?