The first week of free agency is in the books and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been extremely active in reshaping their roster. But activity isn’t always positive, as many teams that sign big-name free agents to big contracts they later regret eventually learn.
So how did the Steelers and first-time general manager Omar Khan do in free agency? Let’s hand out some grades for the Steelers’ 2023 free-agent class.
S DAMONTAE KAZEE
Contract: 2 years, $7 million
2022 PFF Grade: 81
The player: B
Kazee was exactly what the Steelers needed him to be in 2022, as a top-flight No. 3 option at safety behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds that let the team maximize the ability of Fitzpatrick by moving him around the field and utilize different types of coverages by providing a player with a different skillset as the box-first Edmunds as a second half-field safety.
With his new contract running at more than double his previous one, the evaluation of Kazee now depends on whether the Steelers have it in mind for Kazee to be the starter and replace Edmunds or replicate his 2022 role.
If it’s the latter, they should be in good shape. But Kazee’s much slighter build will make it hard for him to be an in-the-box option for when the Steelers play run-heavy teams like Cleveland and (historically, at least) Baltimore.
Filling the need: A-
With Kazee and Edmunds both free agents, it was absolutely essential that the Steelers got at least one of those two deals done, or brought in an outside player, before the 2023 NFL Draft.
It’s not a particularly deep or talented safety class, either, so taking care of things in free agency came with even more urgency this season than in might in most.
The value: A
There have been about 20 safeties signed to contracts so far this offseason, with Jessie Bates III landing at just over $16 million per season and setting the top of the market. The two years, $7 million the Steelers gave to Kazee doesn’t come close to that.
In total, there have been 11 safeties signed with a higher average annual value than Kazee’s $3.5. None of them had a PFF grade higher than his 81 from the 2022 season, not even Bates at the very top of the market.
Most of the contracts in his range went to much worse players. Mike Edwards got 1 year, $3 million from Kansas City and had a 52.3 rating. Nick Scott got three years at $4 million per year from Cincinnati despite a 54.2 rating.
Safety was an essential need for the Steelers, and Kazee seemed to be a really good fit for the job that he was asked to do in 2022. While the Steelers are paying him more this time around, his contract is still a slight bargain compared to the overall market at the position.
The only big question mark is what happens around him. If the Steelers can bring back Edmunds or find another box safety in free agency or the draft, allowing Kazee to focus on his half-field duties, this signing will likely be a big win.