2023 Pre-Draft Movements – Safety

We started this series with a little over two weeks remaining to the draft, knowing that nearly all of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ pertinent personnel decisions will have already been made by then. Over the course of the series, we will be reviewing the team’s roster turnover position by position in an effort to help us project what their plans will be for the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Steelers had a number of notable starters hit free agency this year, and their retention success rate was mixed, re-signing Larry Ogunjobi but losing Cameron Sutton, for example. Largely, however, what they lost they replaced, adding Patrick Peterson in Sutton’s stead.

They also had another active year in outside free agency beyond replacing missing pieces, or voluntary departures, such as Myles Jack. The most notable move was Isaac Seumalo being signed along the offensive line. While Terrell Edmunds is gone, Damontae Kazee was retained and Keanu Neal was added. Likewise, Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts come in and replace Devin Bush and Robert Spillane.

The team did not have to make drastic moves in order to get into cap compliance, but they did release two high-salaried players in linebacker Jack and William Jackson III, the latter of whom never dressed for them. As of now, they have restructured only one contract to create cap space, that being Minkah Fitzpatrick, though restructuring T.J. Watt later this offseason is very possible.

Position: Safety

Total Positional Figure: 8

Offseason Additions: 1

Offseason Deletions: 2

Players Retained:

Minkah Fitzpatrick: After voters embarrassingly overlooked him in 2021, Fitzpatrick regained his rightful status as Pro Bowler and All-Pro last year. He posted a career-high six interceptions, becoming the first Steeler since the 70s to lead the league in that category. He’s the least of their worries.

Damontae Kazee: With the team not retaining Terrell Edmunds, Kazee is ostensibly penciled in as the new strong safety after being re-signed to a two-year, $6 million deal. We could see a rotational element at this position as well. Added as a free agent last year, Kazee has a lot of starting experience under his belt and managed two interceptions in 2022 in half a season’s worth of rotational work.

Tre Norwood: Now entering his third season, Norwood seems to have less chance than ever before of getting on the field with Keanu Neal being brought in and the Steelers having other options for dime. Still, he is a player they would not hesitate to put on the field, I believe, and it’s always good to have as many of those as possible.

Miles Killebrew: A core special teamer, Killebrew didn’t block a handful of punts as he did a year earlier, but he remained a steady presence in his duties. He is under contract through 2023 and isn’t likely to see the field on defense.

Elijah Riley: Riley has been around the league but without much playing time to show for it. He was active for four games last season for the Steelers –he mostly spent 2022 on the practice squad — registering five tackles on 20 defensive and 25 special-teams snaps.

Kenny Robinson: A fifth-round pick in 2020, Robinson’s spent most of his career in Carolina, with 19 games under his belt, but he spent last year on the practice squad. The Steelers signed him after the season, adding him as a Reserve/Future player.

Scott Riley: A tall, rookie college free agent, Riley signed with the Steelers’ practice squad in October, but was released weeks later before being brought back in December. He was retained on a Reserve/Future deal in January.

Players Added:

Keanu Neal: A 2016 first-round draft pick who will only be turning 28 in late July, Neal has evolved into a situational role player, often playing a ‘heavy’ safety/linebacker look closer to the line of scrimmage. That’s the role he should fill in Pittsburgh after signing a two-year, $4.25 million deal.

Players Deleted:

Terrell Edmunds: We don’t know exactly what the Steelers offered to try to retain Edmunds. It couldn’t have been too much given what he got to sign with the Eagles, a one-year deal with a base value of roughly $2 million with less than $1 million to be earned through incentives. For whatever reason, they seemed to feel better about moving forward with Kazee.

Karl Joseph: After two years of doing nothing, the former first-round pick is back to doing what he’s done best since entering the league, which is nothing. That includes not signing any contracts this offseason; he remains a free agent after spending the 2022 season on the Reserve/Injured List.

Notes And Draft Outlook:

As discussed a bit above, it’s unclear why the Steelers didn’t make more effort to re-sign Edmunds, instead giving more to Kazee and Neal, as it always appeared they had a relatively high opinion of him.

It’s also unclear where that leaves them at safety. Both Kazee and Neal are on two-year deals, so there is no pressing need for safety if they feel content with them, either with one as a starter and one as a reserve, or with the pair in some type of platoon.

But if you’re platooning your strong safety position, then you don’t have a starter, do you? Tomlin talks about the increased specialization in the game, but I’m not sure that’s where you want to specialize.

Because of that, it’s not beyond reason that they target a safety early on in the draft. If they don’t, then chances are they won’t draft one at all. One thing they don’t need is depth. They have that. They already have five likely to make the 53-man roster.

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