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Analysis

Should the Steelers Look at FA Safety Eric Berry?

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You are probably going to hear it at some point between now and training camp. Someone with a prominent platform will suggest that the Steelers take a look at Eric Berry. That is because Berry is unlikely to sign between now and camp.

Before digging in, let it be clear that if you had to list the biggest need on the Steelers roster, it would be safety. At the same time, Berry had an excellent NFL career. His story is as inspirational as James Conner, and he will be remembered as a great of his time.

However, those suggesting that the Steelers look into the 30-year old veteran may be a bit misguided. As you can note, Berry had a great career. If you are talking about the current player now, you are talking about a player who cannot help the Steelers in 2019.

AVAILABILITY IS HIS BEST ABILITY

While it is tough to say that a player who beat cancer cannot overcome injury questions, it is also fair to say that Berry has not been competitive on a football field since 2016. James Harrison has even spent more time active on an NFL field since. Berry had a strong 2016 campaign, and that is what most fans will remember of him and that is great. However, one game into his 2017 season saw his career change. Berry suffered an Achilles tear, which is one of the toughest injuries in all of professional sports to recover from.

It is possible, but since 2011, half of the players who have suffered an Achilles tear never played again professionally or retired within two seasons. Those who do return, see a significant decrease in games played per season. Demaryius Thomas and Michael Crabtree came back from Achilles tears, but those were early into their careers.

Terrell Suggs is the only example of a player who tore their Achilles at age 29 or later and came back to have NFL success. He suffered his injury in week one as well but came back the very next year with eight sacks.

Berry missed all of 2017, but  also missed most of 2018 with an aggravated heel. Berry was cleared to play earlier but did not return until Week 16. He told reporters that he could have come back a week earlier, but admitted that he did not feel it in his spirit.

Berry played two regular season games and missed the Chiefs first playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.

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ON-THE-FIELD ISSUES

The Chiefs likely wish they had just placed Berry on the Injured Reserve from the start. However, Berry felt like playing against the New England Patriots, and it cost him and the Chiefs. Berry posted a below average grade from Pro Football Focus.

Two of the biggest plays of the game were the Patriots matching tight end Rob Gronkowski up against Berry and attacking him one-on-one down the field. Yes, the now-retired Rob Gronkowski

In the fourth quarter, Gronkowski beat Berry down the field and bodied him near the goal line on an underthrown pass. Berry lost early and lost late.

In overtime, a quick slant to Gronkowski moved the chains and put the Patriots in scoring position. The two passes amounted to 40 yards. Is this who the Steelers need to help their defense beat a playoff contender like the New England Patriots?

WORTH THE RISK?

Berry is a great story and had a great career. Now, he is 31 years old and has played in three professional games in the past two calendar years. When he was on the field last, the smartest team in the NFL picked him out to attack him in the most important moments of their season. Could he defy the odds and add onto his legend? Absolutely. However, considering the risk and the odds, the Steelers need to look into players who can get on the field, and mold into the upside of a player that Berry once was. Signing Berry would mean signing a player who is going to be in and out of the lineup, and may not even be his old self when he is in the lineup. The shakeup and shuffling would only hinder the development of younger players who would be better served with those snaps.

So, if you hear that Berry should be signed, or if an NFL analyst cannot believe the former star safety is still a free agent, remember there is a reason why.

Steelers Now analyst. IUP Alum. Pittsburgh native. Steelers and Pirates critic, Penguins homer. Covers NFL. Follows NFL, NCAAB, NBA, MLB, and NHL. Writes about the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, and other relevant NFL news.

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