Perhaps lost in all of the hoopla over the just-concluded 2022 NFL Draft was the report last Monday that the Steelers had decided to decline the fifth-year option for inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Bush, a top prospect from Michigan in the 2019 NFL Draft, was someone deemed so necessary to the future of the Steelers defense, that they traded multiple picks to the Broncos in order to move up to the 10th spot so they could be in a position to take him.
That decision was looking good early on, as Bush showed the potential of being a player who could be a cornerstone for Pittsburgh’s defense.
But then Bush suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a blowout win over the Browns in October of the 2020 campaign, and that ultimately changed everything for the Steelers, Devin Bush, and his future with the organization.
Bush made his return in time for the 2021 season, but he was just never really the same player that he was over the first 21 games of his career. Bush looked lost, disinterested, someone not willing to stick his nose in the pile and make a play.
It’s one thing for the fans to question a player’s effort, but it’s quite another when former players do it. One such former player was an ex-linebacker for the Steelers, Arthur Moats, who said just that during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan late in the regular season:
“I’m more of an action guy. So every time we bring up Devin, every time we bring up a player that might be struggling we always want to point to these other things, we want to justify and it’s like no, . . . your tape is going to tell me everything I need to know so don’t’ tell me you want to make plays when I cut the tape on you, you’re not showing that effort.”
Quite telling. Keith Butler, Bush’s now ex-defensive coordinator, said essentially the same thing.
With that in mind, it makes perfect sense that the Steelers would then decide not to commit to Bush beyond the 2022 campaign.
Can Bush’s struggles last year be attributed to him being less than 100 percent—if not physically, then certainly mentally and emotionally—after suffering such a serious knee injury the season before?
Absolutely, but that’s an even better reason to not pick up Bush’s option, an option that would have paid him just under $11 million in guaranteed money in 2023.
What if Bush never overcomes the knee injury? What if it isn’t all mental and emotional hindrances that are causing Bush to play with less effort—at least according to people who have played and coached the game at the highest level?
You can’t blame the Steelers for taking a wait-and-see approach.
Fortunately—and this is solely my opinion—I think Bush’s reluctance to play with gusto in 2021 was a combination of many things, but the fear of getting hurt again may have been at the top of the list.
We’ve all had bad injuries and/or major surgeries that have been hard to overcome. For many of us, it might take a while to get over the psychological hump and give your body up to reckless abandon like you did when you were 100 percent healthy.
This is a normal response to trauma. Is it normal for football players? I don’t know, but I do know Bush is a human being, and we can be tricky.
Bush has recently posted videos to social media showing him working out at full speed and looking like the athlete he was when Pittsburgh parted with so much just to have a chance to draft him three springs ago.
That’s good news because it should erase any doubt about the physical component of Bush’s post-ACL struggles. If he can get by what I think are the mental and emotional roadblocks, he could finally get back to being that centerpiece the Steelers envisioned for the defense the night they drafted him in 2019.
If Bush makes it all the way back, he’ll pay off for the Steelers, and the Steelers will probably pay him a lot more than $10.9 million.