Cammarota/Alany Debate: Should The Steelers Re-Sign Terrell Edmunds or Damontae Kazee?

As NFL free agency approaches the Pittsburgh Steelers still have some decisions to make. One of those decisions involves the defensive backfield and today Aj Alany and I are here to have a good-natured debate about it.

Today’s topic is…

If You Could Only Pick One, Should The Steelers Re-Sign Terrell Edmunds or Damontae Kazee?

Joe Cammarota: Steelers Should Re-sign Terrell Edmunds

Terrell Edmunds was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2018 and after a slow start to his career, he has consistently improved every year. Since his tumultuous first few seasons, Edmunds has turned into a reliable safety partner with superstar Minkah Fitzpatrick who does his job well and doesn’t get picked on. While Fitzpatrick makes all the splash plays, Edmunds does a good job in the box, playing the run game well and can hold his own when covering tight ends.

A good tackler and run stopper, it is important to take into account the chemistry he and Fitzpatrick have together as well. The two have been paired at the safety position since 2019 when Fitzpatrick arrived in the Steel City and have played well together. They each know what to expect from one another and because of that Fitzpatrick can take some risks because he knows what his safety partner is doing. Think of the chemistry Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark had together, Fitzpatrick and Edmunds have a similar type of chemistry. Just this past season, Fitzpatrick talked about how important it was to him that the Steelers brought Edmunds back.

Another reason to bring back Edmunds is to look at how the defense played when Edmunds was healthy versus when he was injured. After Edmunds exited the game against the New York Jets with a concussion the Jets’ offense woke up and mounted a comeback. The next week against the Buffalo Bills with Edmunds out, the Steelers allowed 38 points as Josh Allen threw all over them.

Edmunds was healthy enough to play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next week, but he was the only regular starter in the secondary that week as Fitzpatrick, Levi Wallace, and Cam Sutton all missed the game with injuries. Despite this, with Edmunds starting at safety the Steelers secondary played great and was a huge reason they upset Tom Brady and the Buccaneers.

While Edmunds isn’t a superstar, he means a lot to this defense. Splash plays are important, but so is sound defense and as Edmunds has continued to grow the more sound his defense has become. When you factor in his chemistry with Fitzpatrick and much of the defensive secondary and how the team looks when he is not on the field, it shows why he is the safety Pittsburgh should prioritize in re-signing.

Aj Alany: Steelers Should Re-Sign Damontae Kazee

Granted, Edmunds is far from a below-average player, is uniquely durable with only three missed games out of a possible 79, and has ample experience playing alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick. However, it’s also true that he is far from an above-average starter, especially when it comes to playmaking. For context, in 2022, Edumunds had zero interceptions in 886 snaps, while Kazee had two in 273. 

A 2018 Steelers’ first-round pick, Edmunds does not have a season with over two interceptions in his five-year career, and has never forced a fumble. Compare this with Kazee, who once led the league with seven interceptions, and had forced a fumble nearly every season in his career. On the other hand, Kazee has around the same number of seasons under his belt as Edmunds. An undrafted free agent by the Atlanta Falcons in 2017 going into his seventh season, he played four seasons with them and one season with Dallas, though he is three years older than Edmunds (26) at 29 years old. Prior to him signing with the Steelers, he started two full seasons in Atlanta and one in Dallas.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kazee was a better all-around player, grading significantly better than Edmunds overall, in pass coverage, and run blocking, also allowing a 29.2 passer rating compared to Edmunds’ 132.4. Kazee also did not miss a tackle while Edmunds has a 12% missed tackle rate. Now, this certainly does not mean that Kazee is that much better of a player, as his sample size is far smaller. What it does mean is that Kazee played well enough in contrast to Edmunds in a small sample size to warrant another chance to start.

The fact is, unless Edmunds makes an unforeseen jump, both him and Kazee are short-term options at the safety spot alongside Fitzpatrick. The team is more than likely going to invest a draft pick into the position in 2024 or 2025. If the team sticks with Edmunds, they will likely get the same stagnant yet consistent play with the duo of him and Fitzpatrick. This comes down to who would be a higher-ceiling player alongside Fitzpatrick, which is arguably Kazee.

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