Pittsburgh kept only one of its two pending free agent safeties this offseason. And it was Damontae Kazee, the relative newcomer to the team, returning over the tenured Terrell Edmunds, who spent five seasons with the Steelers. Speaking to reporters Monday morning at the 2023 League Meetings in Arizona, Mike Tomlin offered what Kazee brings to the table.
“He’s got ball production,” Tomlin said via Steelers.com. “He brings an energy and enthusiasm that’s infectious, that’s good for teams, not only in stadium but day-to-day. He has a Steeler spirit that we value.”
Though yet to officially be announced by the team, Kazee reportedly signed a two-year, $6 million shortly earlier this month. Signed to a one-year deal hours after the 2022 NFL Draft ended, Kazee carved out a sub-package role the back half of last season after missing the first eight games with a broken arm.
Coming out of San Diego State, Kazee was light on size but big on splash plays. Still the Aztecs’ career leader with 17 interceptions, those ball skills translated to the NFL; he led the league with seven interceptions in 2018, his second year in the league. He’s picked off two passes in each of the last two years, including a pair in 2022 despite only playing half a season. He put an exclamation point on the year jumping and picking off Cleveland Browns QB Deshaun Watson in the season finale.
Pittsburgh’s secondary has focused on ball skills and big plays, tying for the NFL lead with 20 picks a season ago. Bringing Kazee back reinforces their priorities, re-signing him over Terrell Edmunds, a solid player but one of the least splashy defensive backs in football.
Ideally, Kazee serves as a sixth defensive back in dime packages, the same role he occupied last year, to help mitigate the loss of CB Cam Sutton and allow Minkah Fitzpatrick more freedom to move around. It was a point at which Tomlin hinted.
“It’s our job is to put [Fitzpatrick] in position to be impactful, to wreak havoc, to do the things he’s blessed to have the talents to do,” he said. “He’s a smart guy and those that work with him are versatile and so that allows us an opportunity to do those things. I can’t imagine that decreasing.”
Pittsburgh will add another safety this offseason, Tomlin’s admitted as much. But Kazee will have a serious role in the Steelers’ defense this fall.