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Why the Steelers did not pick up Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option

Some chalk up the decision based solely on performance, but the business of the NFL was a huge factor.

Houston Texans v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Prior to the 2021 NFL draft, it was reported the Pittsburgh Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. By doing so, Fitzpatrick‘s $2,722,878 base salary in 2021 along with his $10.612 million fifth-year option for 2020 to become fully guaranteed. Although he was not a draft selection by the Steelers in 2018, by trading for Fitzpatrick the Steelers held the rights to the option.

Interestingly enough, the fifth-year option for Terrell Edmunds was not reported prior to the draft. On Monday, mere hours before the deadline, it was reported the Steelers would not be exercising the option on Edmunds.

Ever since the Steelers drafted Edmunds as the 28th pick in the 2018 NFL draft, many within the Steelers’ fan base felt it was a huge reach and the Steelers would eventually regret the decision. Since that time, Edmunds has started 43 of the 47 regular-season games for the Steelers. While not tearing up the league with All-Pro selections like his safety counterpart, Edmunds has become a solid player on the Steelers defense. Unfortunately, the first round label has followed him and therefore set some lofty expectations.

So if Edmunds has been doing the job for the Steelers, why not exercise his fifth-year option? Since he had not earned a Pro Bowl selection, let alone two, Edmunds fifth-year option was merely 64% of that of Fitzpatrick at $6.753 million. Is Edmunds not giving 64% of what the Steelers have in Fitzpatrick? Was it based solely on performance?

Being the numbers person that I am, I believe it does come down to the business of football and the contracts when it comes to the choice of not exercising the option on Edmunds. Simply because his option was not picked up does not mean he will go the route of Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns and not spend any time with the Steelers beyond his first four seasons. I’m sure the Steelers are planning to work out a deal with Edmunds to keep him in Pittsburgh long term, whether doing it this offseason or next. The biggest question will be if not picking up the option has made Edmunds sour on the situation.

When it comes to the numbers, a big factor could simply had to do with the huge jump in salary at one specific position. It’s unusual for the Steelers to have two players with a fifth-year option in the same year, especially since it’s never happened to them before. While the Steelers appear to have the salary cap space for 2022 in order to make the move, the last thing they want to do is start overpaying players simply because they have some space at the moment.

Not only are the Steelers dealing with two players where they had to decide on their fifth-year option, they are both in the same position group. While this may or may not be a factor, if someone is looking over the finances of the team, it would be a huge jump in salary at one position in just one year’s time.

For 2021, the Steelers are currently ranked 25th in the NFL in positional spending at the safety position according to overthecap.com. With both starting safeties on rookie contracts, the safety position has been where the Steelers have spent the least amount of money on the defense since 2018.

Had the Steelers picked up Edmunds’ fifth-year option, it would have more than doubled their positional spending just between the contracts of their two starters and not taking into account any additional players. Based on current contracts for 2022, the Steelers would have shot up to 8th in the NFL with just those two salaries.

Additionally, if looking at both performance and salary, based on safeties under contract for the 2022 season as reported by OTC, Edmunds would be the 18th highest-paid player at the position. Is there anyone who thinks Edmunds is the 18th best safety in the NFL, putting him ahead of the top safety on roughly half on the teams in the NFL?

This situation may have been much like the Steelers’ restricted free agents in 2021. The Steelers did not offer tenders to either Ray-Ray McCloud or Ola Adeniyi because they weren’t worth the $2.133 million it would take. Because of this, Ola Adeniyi left in free agency, but McCloud signed a one-year deal with the Steelers at a much more reasonable $1 million. Even though the Steelers wanted to keep a player, they knew better than to overpay.

Ultimately, the decision to not offer the fifth-year option to Terrell Edmunds was likely due to multiple factors. If it wasn’t for exercising the option on Fitzpatrick at the same position in the same year, it may not have been a problem. Add in the fact the team would be spending nearly $7 million on their second-best safety, the Steelers would be back in the position they just got out of at cornerback. With multiple, big contracts along the defensive line and a potentially huge deal coming for T.J. Watt, the yearly cost may have simply been too much after taking everything else into consideration.

If the Steelers made the decision they were only going to use the fifth-year option on one player, it made sense to go with Fitzpatrick even though it was for so much more money. If the ultimate goal was to have one player on the fifth-year option and work out a deal with the other, there’s always a risk of not having that deal come through. If this was going to be the case, losing Terrell Edmunds would be the preferred worst-case scenario than losing Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Money, performance, positional spending, and timing we’re likely all factors in the Steelers decision. Just like everything else Steelers’ fans find out about with their beloved team, there is obviously a plan in place by the front office. Whether or not everything works out the way the Steelers hope it will is the ultimate question which will be answered farther down the road.