The Pittsburgh Steelers have been an organization who has traditionally exercised the 5th year option on their first round draft picks since it became a part of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
While what players make has changed since the 5th year option went into place, the decision for the Steelers has always been to pick up the option, compared to the alternative. In fact, the only first round picks which have not had their option exercised have been:
OLB Jarvis Jones
CB Artie Burns
S Terrell Edmunds
In Edmunds’ defense, the Steelers had to pick up Minkah Fitzpatrick’s 5th year option last year, and justifying putting that much guaranteed money into a safety duo is difficult to explain. The Steelers would like to keep Edmunds, but at a lower price tag.
Nonetheless, while many of the team’s decisions with their top picks have been easy, the one they have coming up with Devin Bush is anything but simple. Before diving too far into this topic, it is worth noting when the Steelers have to make their decision on Bush’s future beyond his first four years in the NFL.
Players chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft just finished their third regular season, and that means one thing for the first-round picks from that class: It’s decision time on the fifth-year option.
The window opened Monday for NFL teams to pick up the option, with the final deadline set for May 2.
Bush, and his 5th year option, might be an easy decision for some. And most likely those who find the decision easy would likely say the Steelers should not pick up the option, making Bush the fourth first round pick to not have his option exercised. But this is where the difficulty resides in the Steelers’ decision.
Bush’s rookie season saw him with an upward trajectory throughout the season, and the start of the 2020 season, his second season, was tremendous. Bush was flashing the speed and athleticism which saw the Steelers move up 10 spots in the 2019 NFL Draft to select him. Then he tore his ACL.
The 2021 season was a difficult one for Bush. You could tell he didn’t fully trust his surgically repaired knee, and the hesitation was a death knell on more than one occasion. As the season progressed Bush’s play improved, but never to the level of 2020.
What are the experts suggesting with Bush and his 5th year option? Here is what Marc Ross of NFL.com suggests:
Exercise the option? No.
Bush was a highly touted linebacker in this class alongside Devin White, but we haven’t seen him live up to that potential. He had a solid rookie campaign (109 tackles, nine tackles for loss, two INTs, a forced fumble, four fumble recoveries, one sack), but was out for most of 2020 with a knee injury and has really struggled with his game in Year 3. With just two sacks, 70 tackles (two for loss) and a forced fumble this season, Bush hasn’t been able to consistently impact Pittsburgh’s defense like others in the unit have. As a top-10 pick, he’s expected to do just that.
If the Steelers plan on putting their trust in Bush to spend this offseason not recovering from knee surgery, but preparing to return to the form which saw him be a Top 10 draft pick, they could easily pick up the option and hope for the best.
Talk about a leap of faith when Bush was limited to the following stat line in the 2021 regular season:
Combined Tackles: 70
Solo Tackles: 41
Tackles for Loss: 2
Pass Defenses: 4
QB Hits: 4
If the Steelers choose to pick up Bush’s option, they will be banking on the fact the linebacker won’t just return to his pre-injury self, but the team’s defensive front will improve to keep linemen from getting to Bush. Bush, like Ryan Shazier, is an undersized linebacker whose sideline-to-sideline speed and athleticism is his calling card. When linemen get to the second level, Bush can easily get lost in the shuffle. Something fans saw too much of during last season.
On the flip side, if the Steelers choose to let Bush’s time with the team expire, it will restart the search for a solid inside linebacker who is worthy of a second contract with the team. But what do you think? Should the Steelers pick up Bush’s 5th year option? Let us know your thoughts 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 the new league year and the 2022 NFL Draft.