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 the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. 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 and Keanu Neal will split the strong safety role this season.
Explanation: Rather than re-signing Terrell Edmunds and his five years of starting strong safety experience in their system, the Steelers opted instead to retain Damontae Kazee and to bring in Keanu Neal at a combined value north of $5 million per season. Neither appear to be regarded as 1000-snap players.
One thing head coach Mike Tomlin has been talking about with regularity for going on a decade now is the continuing specialization of the game of football. That is nowhere more true than in the secondary, and whether by choice or not, his defense should reflect that this year.
While the team acknowledged that they did give Terrell Edmunds an offer, it is not known if that offer—their best, presumably—was submitted before or after they re-signed Kazee. It was certainly before adding Neal.
While Kazee has been an every-down safety before, he is best suited to being used more in passing situations, while for Neal the opposite applies. We can reasonably expect the Steelers to want to mix and match the two safeties based on the game circumstances to best match up skill set with in-game situation.
When the Neal signing was first reported, it was framed as being for depth. Kazee is the player who started in the second half of the season when there were injuries at safety, and he is the one with more than 50 starts under his belt.
Perhaps he might have some injury and durability concerns, but there is nothing in his game nor his skill set that says he cannot play 1000-1100 snaps. He does have two 900-plus-snap seasons under his belt, including in 2021, and his playing time only dipped there after he got into legal trouble.
The Steelers paid Kazee $3 million per season because they believed he could be an every-down player, and, barring an addition through the draft who would come in and start right away, that’s where he’ll be. Neal should get a lot of playing time as well because the Steelers like the three-safety look and he introduces a wrinkle they don’t otherwise have, but you don’t get stability in a rotation, especially not at safety—perhaps only quarterback would be a worse position to rotate.