PITTSBURGH, PA — The Pittsburgh Steelers will lose former first-round pick and starting safety Terrell Edmunds, who sent his goodbye to the fans after informing the team he will be signing elsewhere in free agency.
So, now what? The Steelers have Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee under contract, with Tre Norwood and Miles Killebrew as depth, but they’ll be looking for another starter-capable player to work in a three-man rotation at safety.
They still have options, but three players pop when you look at their list.
John Johnson III
If the Steelers want to stay young and bring in a player they can have for the long term, Johnson should be at the top of their list. He’s just 27 years old, coming off a 100-tackle season with the Cleveland Browns where he also recorded an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
The best part about Johnson is his versatility. He can play safety while also sliding down and playing nickelback when needed. Kazee can do the same, and with the two of them working together, it allows the Steelers to test out different looks with their defensive backs.
In his first season as a starter in 2022, Owens recorded 125 tackles for the Houston Texans defense. Now, at just 27 years old, he’s looking for his second NFL home, and without any expectations, he could come to Pittsburgh play whatever role they need.
Owens came into the league in 2018 as an undrafted rookie but didn’t play meaningful reps until last season when he started all 17 games for the Texans. He’s a risk, and the Steelers would have to hope he’s on an uphill trajectory, but he’s not a bad option to take a cheap risk on.
At this point in free agency, Owens can’t be asking for a high price tag, and if the Steelers want a safety who can play both positions and be a primary backup, he’s an answer.
Plus, if he turns into something much bigger than his first five NFL seasons suggest, they got a steal in free agency.
You can’t ignore the obvious when making this list, and with Edmunds gone and the Steelers in attendance at Alabama’s Pro Day, you have to wonder if Mike Tomlin was watching thinking about his next first round pick in Brian Branch.
Branch is a can do it all player. He works well at safety, can play in the box and move to the slot. The only position he rarely played in college was centerfielder, which Fitzpatrick tends to cover for the Steelers anyways.
Most mock drafts don’t have Branch being selected until after pick 17. So, if he’s sitting there and the Steelers believe they can land a versatile defensive back that meets their needs, they could bring in another Alabama safety.
Oh, plus, Branch has “dreamed” of playing with Minkah Fitzpatrick since he committed to Alabama.