With the deadline for the Pittsburgh Steelers to exercise the fifth-year option on 2016 first-round draft pick Artie Burns set to pass on Friday, it should already be obvious that the team will not be exercising their right to retain the cornerback in 2020. But for those still hoping that the Steelers might have a change of heart in the final 24 hours, a report from Jeremy Fowler of ESPN on Wednesday should have ended that fantasy.
Steelers expected to decline CB Artie Burns’ fifth-year option, per sources. Burns was replaced in the starting lineup last year and is set to become a free agent in 2020 barring change before the May 3 deadline. Steelers are encouraged Burns can re-enter rotation this year.— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 1, 2019
Once a promising rookie coming off an encouraging debut season, Burns has not come close to matching the expectations that came with his draft status, relegated to a reserve role in 2018 after struggling throughout most of the 2017 season.
Appearing as a guest of 93.7 The Fan on Tuesday, while general manager Kevin Colbert sounded hopeful that the former first-round draft pick could regain the form he had hinted at as a rookie, it is hard to be confident that Burns will even make the 2019 opening day roster. And when asked how the young cornerback figured in the Steelers plans going forward, Colbert put the onus on Burns to step up this season if he wants to stick around long-term.
“That’s up to Artie. Artie came in as a rookie and played pretty good for us that first year, and over the last two years he hasn’t. It’s really a confidence issue with Artie. Artie lost his confidence and wasn’t where we needed him to be and was replaced in the starting lineup.
“He’s had a good offseason. He’s only been with us for the last week and a half in the phase of the workouts we’re in, but we had good meetings with him. He wants to be back where he was. He certainly has the talent to be and he works at it. He’s just got to find that confidence again, and if he does, he can be a successful NFL starter. But he knows it, we know it and it’s been talked about and we’re encouraged by his wanting to be back where he needs to be. And if he gets there, great, that’ll be good for him, it will be good for us and we’re going to support that and see where it goes.”
In light of those words, it is hardly surprising to note that the Steelers appear more than willing to turn down the opportunity to commit almost $10 million to Burns in 2020, the projected cost of his fifth-year option. And if Pittsburgh is looking to create some salary cap space later in the year, it would not be a shock if the Steelers let him leave in 2019. A move that would save them just over $1.75 million against the cap before displacement and leave them with around $1.3 million in dead money to account for.
Currently one of 12 cornerback on the roster fighting for a place among the final 53 come September, it is difficult to see how Pittsburgh will be able to justify keeping Burns. Benched in favor of Coty Sensabaugh who the Steelers have already allowed to leave this offseason, the task of beating out veteran free agent Steven Nelson for playing time should be even more of a challenge this year.
With Justin Layne, Joe Haden, Mike Hilton and Nelson all locks to be on the opening day roster for a team that began the year with five cornerbacks in 2018, Burns may struggle to beat out 2017 third-round draft pick Cam Sutton who may be prefered as a reserve in the slot, 2017 fifth-round pick Brian Allen or an outsider like former AAF players Kameron Kelly or Jack Tocho.
Since the fifth-year option was introduced as part on the new CBA in 2011, Pittsburgh has exercised it for Cam Heyward, David DeCastro, Ryan Shazier and Bud Dupree, with Burns set to join Jarvis Jones as the only player to have his option declined.