The Pittsburgh Steelers defense was difficult to assess in 2021. They were able to get to the quarterback, which has become expected, but for the success they had in rushing the passer, they struggled in stopping the run. At the conclusion of the regular season the Steelers’ defense ranked dead last in the NFL in rush defense, surrendering 146 yards per game. What is often overlooked is how the team’s secondary was a Top 10 unit, ranking 9th in the league surrendering 215 yards per game through the air.
The secondary will be an area of this team to keep an eye on this offseason as they have several key members entering free agency. Those players would be:
S Terrell Edmunds
CB Ahkello Witherspoon
CB Joe Haden
Just three players, but when you consider the impact that trio had on the secondary it is difficult to consider another area on the team which could be more impacted by free agency than the secondary. The fact remains, the key to success in the NFL is continuity, and that isn’t easy in the free agency era. After the season Minkah Fitzpatrick spoke with media, and he knows what needs to happen to keep the pass defense as strong as ever.
“My hope is to get everybody back,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think we had a really good secondary this year. We had our bumps in the road, but I think we had a really good secondary this year. I think we were challenged a lot. If we can bring as many people back as we can, I think that’s what we need to do.
“Cohesion is extremely important in the secondary. It’s not just about how fast you can play or how great you can play. It’s about how we communicate by being on the same page. By everybody seeing things the same way. So hopefully we can bring back as many people as we can.”
No one came on more than Ahkello Witherspoon towards the end of the season. After being a regular gameday inactive since being acquired via trade with the Seattle Seahawks, Witherspoon took advantage of his opportunity. In the 9 games he played, he led the Steelers in interceptions with 3, tied Cam Heyward with 9 pass defenses, and did more than enough to state his case to be a priority this offseason to be retained by the team.
As for Haden, his season was slowed due to a foot injury which saw him play in just 12 games, and during his time on the field he wasn’t able to register an interception, had 6 pass defenses and a fumble recovery. This isn’t to suggest Haden had a poor season, but when you are talking about an aging defensive back you have to consider his overall health before offering a lucrative final contract.
Edmunds, who didn’t have his 5th year option picked up by the Steelers, is coming off one of his best seasons of his young career. Edmunds registered 2 interceptions, 6 pass defenses, 1 sack and was tied for third on the team in total tackles with 89. Keeping Edmunds and Fitzpatrick together at safety would go a long way in helping the Steelers’ secondary remain strong in 2022, and beyond.
While the Steelers have a significant amount of salary cap space this offseason, you have to wonder how much the organization wants to invest in the secondary when there are needs at other positions, especially along the offensive line. If the Steelers could find a way to bring back all three free agents, and not break the bank, it would be ideal; however, that is unbelievably unlikely.
The question then becomes if the Steelers weren’t able to bring back all three, who would you bring back, and how much would it cost? Would bringing back Edmunds and Witherspoon be enough to keep the continuity in the secondary? Limiting the roster turnover in the defensive secondary will be a big factor this offseason.
Let us know what you think in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for what could be a very chaotic offseason.