Who Will Play Safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Could Tyrann Mathieu be who plays safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Who will play safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers? That is the question everyone is asking. Right now strong safety is the only starting position without a player in place.

Now this can be sort of misleading. There has been a lot of conversation about who exactly are the starting wide receivers. Right now Pittsburgh only has two in Dionte Johnson and Chase Claypool. But I believe the 11th starter on offense he is referring to is Fullback Derek Watt.

But on defense, who will play safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers next to Minkah Fitzpatrick? The starter for the last four years has been Terrell Edmunds, who Pittsburgh took in the first round of the 2018 draft. The Steelers elected to not pick up Edmunds’s fifth-year option last summer, and he is currently still a free agent.

With that said, who will play safety for the Pittsburgh Steelers this season?

Terrell Edmunds

The man himself. Even this late into free agency, I think he still has the highest likelihood of (re)joining the team and starting at safety. From the Steelers point of view, I’m sure they’ve already sent him a contract they are comfortable with and are happy to wait and see if he accepts. They’d be motivated to bring him back because of his consistency and dependability at the position. He’s only missed one game in his four years, and it was the last regular season game of the 2020 season where the Steelers’ seeding was already decided.

He also would keep continuity in a defensive backfield that already went through one major shakeup last season, moving on from Cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson. Last year was a transition season for the Steelers’ defensive backs, and with veteran Joe Haden likely gone, keeping Edmunds would be a benefit.

I laid out the case more fully here, but bottom line I give Edmunds the best chance still today.

Tyrann Mathieu

Steelers fans’ top choice is up next. Tyrann Mathieu on the field could make a lot of sense. He’s more versatile than Edmunds, with the ability to cover tight ends, or even play in the slot. He’s also more of a playmaker than Edmunds. In the last four years Mathieu has 15 interceptions, six sacks, and five fumble recoveries. Edmunds has just five INTs, three sacks, and one FR.

Mathieu isn’t the same style run defender as Edmunds, who is very solid at filling gaps and playing the run. The Honey Badger is more of a pass defender/playmaker, but he is certainly smart enough to complete run assignments asked of him.

Mathieu would be a really fun signing for Pittsburgh, and would give the Steelers a great playmaking combination at safety. Mathieu is still only 29, but it is a bit on the older side of where Pittsburgh likes to sign outside free agents. Although they were reportedly in the running for Kareem Jackson as well, who is 34 years old and just re-signed with the Denver Broncos.

Landon Collins

A sneaky name I haven’t heard much about since he was cut, Landon Collins checks a lot of boxes the Steelers look for. Pedigree? Former second round pick. Power five school? Alabama. Pre-draft interest? Visit to his Pro Day and a pre-draft interview with the team. Pittsburgh loves to circle back to players they had interest in during the draft process as free agents.

Collins is still just 28 but has seven years of NFL starting experience. He’s made three pro bowls and was named All-Pro once in 2016. Last year for Washington, Collins played a hybrid linebacker/safety role. That ability close to the line of scrimmage makes him a great scheme fit for the Steelers as a box safety. Collins had 81 combined tackles, seven tackles for loss, three sacks, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions and one forced fumble in 13 games.

Collins might be the best combination of what the Steelers like in a safety in terms of ability to play close to the LOS and play the run, but also an element of playmaking they’ve been missing in the pass game. He was cut by the Commanders over how much money he should make this year (his cap hit would have been nearly $16 million) so the money will be the interesting thing to watch. If Pittsburgh were to restructure the contract of T.J. Watt however, they’d have plenty of cash to make it happen if they wanted.

The Others Free Agents

There are some other names to consider as well. Jaquiski Tartt from the San Francisco 49ers is a bigger safety (6’1, 215) with 64 career starts. He just turned 30 this past February and was a former second round pick. He has dealt with injuries in his time however. In five years as a starter for the 49ers he played in more than 10 games only twice. He also isn’t a huge playmaker (just four career interceptions). It’s hard to envision the Steelers signing a Terrell Edmunds type player, that is five years older than Edmunds.

Damontae Kazee is a free agent who spent four years with the Atlanta Falcons before playing with the Dallas Cowboys last season. He is a bit undersized for what Pittsburgh usually looks for (5’11, 175) but has played multiple roles. Kazee played for Dan Quinn in both Atlanta and Dallas who’s used him all over the field. He led the league in interceptions his second year in the NFL with seven. I don’t think Pittsburgh will go with a smaller player to pair with Minkah, but I’m sure it’s on the table. Especially if they are thinking of switching up philosophies.

Internal Options?

And finally, don’t forget about the guys on the roster currently. While Karl Joseph’s career hasn’t quite panned out, he’s back on the team after spending last year going between the practice squad and 53. Pittsburgh showed interest in Joseph at his Pro Day at West Virginia, and had him in for a pre-draft interview.

Last year’s UDFA Donovan Stiner is also impressive. At 6’2, 210 he has good size and is a solid tackler. He is a physical player who doesn’t mind coming downhill to play the run. And while he isn’t great in coverage, he has some ability to play the pass deep. I liked Stiner in the preseason, and he showed enough to stick all the way through camp and on the practice squad all season. While both of these players are just competing to make the 53, it wouldn’t floor me if one of them wound up seeing significant action.

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