Connect with us

Steelers News

Steelers Could Take Advantage of Historic Safety Free Agent Class

The Pittsburgh Steelers could take advantage of a historic free agent class at the safety position to upgrade on Keanu Neal at strong safety.



Pittsburgh Steelers Free Agent Target Denver Broncos Safety Justin Simmons
Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (31) before an NFL football game in Empower Field at Mile High Sunday, Dec. 24, 2023, in Denver. (AP Photo/Geneva Heffernan)

If it seems like half of the big-name safeties in the NFL have been released or are set to hit free agency this offseason, well, that might actually be under-selling. Nearly every team in the league has had at least one of their starting 2023 safeties depart, and now that the Pittsburgh Steelers are officially in the market after releasing Keanu Neal on Thursday, they could be set to take advantage.

The Steelers had all three of their primary options from 2023 under contract for 2024, with All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick flanked by Damontae Kazee and Neal. But the bumper crop of available free agents at the position likely tempted Omar Khan and company into making a move to upgrade the spot, despite those three being under contract.

They are far from the only ones, because there are a lot of great names out there.

The Denver Broncos announced on Thursday that they are releasing four-time All-Pro safety Justin Simmons, a salary cap casualty of their Russell Wilson debacle at quarterback.

On Wednesday, the Buffalo Bills set free All-Pro Jordan Poyer amid their own salary cap crunch. He joins fellow Buffalo All-Pro Micah Hyde, whose contract is up, on the free agent market.

Fellow former All-Pros Kevin Byard and Jamal Adams have also recently been released, and both Budda Baker and Derwin James have been rumored to be players potentially on the chopping block. That would leave more than half of the All-Pro safeties over the last five seasons on the open market.

It’s not just the very top of the position, either. Baltimore Ravens safety Geno Stone, who led the position with seven interceptions this past season, is not expected to return to Baltimore. Julian Blackmon of the Indianapolis Colts and Jordan Whitehead of the New York Jets, who each had four picks in 2023, are both UFAs.

Xavier McKinney of the New York Giants was the fourth-best player at the position in 2023, according to Pro Football Focus, and played every snap for Big Blue, yet he’s set to hit free agency.

Rayshawn Jenkins of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Quandre Diggs of the Seattle Seahawks, Jordan Fuller of the Los Angeles Rams and Kamren Curl of the Washington Commanders all played more than 90% of their teams’ snaps in 2023. All are free agents.

The flood of starting safeties to the open market will likely have the effect of reducing the asking price, something that has been happening at the position over the last few years already.

The Steelers gad Neal and Kazee under contract, but it would not be prohibitive for the team to get out from under both of those deals. Cutting Neal left a $460,000 dead cap hit and savde $2.25 million. Releasing Kazee would cost just $875,000 in dead cap hit and save $3 million.

The Steelers struggled in 2023 to find someone to pair with Minkah Fitzpatrick and replace longtime starter Terrell Edmunds at strong safety. (Edmunds is also a free agent.)

The 2024 NFL Draft class is not top-heavy at the safety position. According to the NFL Mock Draft Database consensus big board, no safeties are expected to be taken in the first round, and only two — Minnesota’s Tyler Nubin at No. 42 and Miami’s Kam Kinchens at No. 49 — are projected in the top 50 picks.