I hate to be the one to throw cold water on Steelers nation, but enthusiasm over the free agent signings has gone a bit over board. The signings of John Bostic and Morgan Burnett have Steelers fans in a tizzy. Pittsburgh may have improved themselves over Sean Spence and Mike Mitchell, but by how much? Unfortunately not nearly enough to get this defense where it needs to be. All the talk of how good they are as tacklers, and how they are smart football players are just narratives aimed at avoiding the real truth. Neither player represents a substantial upgrade for the defense as a whole.
The argument that the defense will be so much improved with Bostic than with Sean Spence is flawed. Sure just about anyone would be an improvement over the way Spence performed last season, but that’s not the point. Spence was a desperate pick-up for the injured Ryan Shazier. He was never meant to be a long-term solution at the position. Kevin Colbert has had ample time now to figure out who the next inside linebacker is, and John Bostic is the best he can do? When you compare the rosteri from September 2017 to the roster expected this September, this defense is seriuosly downgraded. In fairness, the answer probably was always coming from this year’s draft. If that’s the case, there’s still one more need to be filled.
This brings us to the second free agent signing of Morgan Burnett. In a vacuum, replacing Mitchell with Burnett seems like a slam dunk upgrade. However, everything will hinge on how well Sean Davis adapts to moving to free safety now. Free safety is the last line of defense and requires a in-depth knowledge of the defense in order to not be out of position. Traits that Sean Davis is not exactly known for at this stage of his career. While he is a far better athlete than Mitchell is at this point, that’s not always the number one thing you look at that position. Expect some major growing pains in the secondary for 2018.
So here we are heading into the 2018 season with a defense that may be significantly worse than last year. The pairing of two average linebackers like Bostic and Vince Williams is not an ideal situation. Add to that the complete shake-up at safety, and it’s not a pretty picture. The best case scenario is the Steelers hit a home run at pick 28 with an inside linebacker, while Burnett and Davis quickly settle into an above average tandem. We all know what happens when you bank on best case scenarios. This offense better be as good as advertised, or it could be a long season in Pittsburgh.