The Steelers are now in their offseason after failing to reach the playoffs in 2022, coming up just a game short of sneaking in as the seventh seed. They needed help in week 18 and only got some of it, so instead they sat home and watched the playoffs with the rest of us.
On tap is figuring out how to be on the field in January and February instead of being a spectator. They started out 2-6, digging a hole that proved too deep to dig out of even if they managed to go 7-2 in the second half of the year.
Starting from the end of the regular season and leading all the way up to the beginning of the 2023 season, there are plenty of questions that need answered, starting with who will be the offensive coordinator. Which free agents will be kept? Who might be let go due to their salary? How might they tackle free agency with this new front office? We’ll try to frame the conversation in relevant ways as long as you stick with us throughout this offseason, as we have for many years.
Question: Who actually would start at strong safety ‘as of right now’?
The other day we talked about a comment by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Gerry Dulac about the Steelers’ strong safety position, no longer occupied by five-year starter Terrell Edmunds. Asked who would start there this season, he said that it would be Keanu Neal “as of right now”, and not Damontae Kazee.
Neal, a former first-round draft pick, has most recently been a sub-package player, while Kazee’s first season since his rookie year in which he wasn’t a full-time starter came only last season when he signed with the Steelers. Neal and Kazee were even teammates for five years in Atlanta and then in Dallas in 2021, and it was Kazee who got more playing time.
The Steelers re-signed Kazee this offseason to a two-year, $6 million contract, while they brought in Neal as an outside free agent on a two-year deal worth $4.25 million. They’re obviously paying Kazee more, and he has more familiarity with their defense. On top of that, their recent history together saw Kazee playing over Neal.
But the truth is we don’t know what the Steelers are thinking, or even if they’re thinking anything in particular. After all, they did by their own admission still try to re-sign Edmunds, even though they failed to do so.
It’s quite possible that they have no strong ideas or feelings about who between Kazee and Neal would be the starter, figuring that it would be settled in training camp and the preseason. Or they may figure that the two would mix and match, each playing in situations that work to their strengths and minimize their weaknesses.
Odds are they’re not going to be in a position to add a better safety this offseason, so we have to assume that these two along with All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick are their top three players. We know Minkah’s not coming off the field. But what about these former Falcons?