For the second season in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers have declined to exercise the fifth-year option on a first-round pick. Late Monday morning, ESPN senior NFL insider Adam Schefter broke the news that the Steelers would not be picking up the 2023 option on inside linebacker Devin Bush Jr., who is expected to play the 2022 season on an expiring contract.
Had the Steelers picked up his fifth-year option, Bush would have earned $10.892 million in 2023. Instead, he’ll become a free agent after the 2022 season.
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The Outlook for Devin Bush in 2022 (and Beyond)
It’s not a foregone conclusion that the 2022 campaign will be Bush’s last in a Steelers uniform. The Steelers chose not to pick up Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option last May, making 2022 a contract year for Pittsburgh’s starting strong safety. Edmunds went on to hit unrestricted free agency, but ultimately elected to sign a second contract with the Steelers, returning to Pittsburgh’s on a one-year, $2.5 million deal.
On the other hand, the outlook for Bush reaching his full potential isn’t great. He had an impactful rookie year, recording 109 tackles (72 solo), along with two interceptions, four passes defensed, four fumble recoveries and a sack, per Pro Football Reference. Yet he hasn’t been the same player since coming back from the torn ACL he suffered against the Cleveland Browns in October 2020. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has highlighted the knee injury when discussing Bush’s “spotty” play, and teammates like Chris Wormley have mentioned it too.
As if that weren’t enough, teammates and fans alike have been alarmed by what they have seen from Bush on social media. For example, in July 2021 he shared an extremely disconcerting cat video, part of a daylong tweetstorm that had observers urging him to delete his Twitter account. That came on the heels of a tweet in which he decried the use of the popular social media platform TikTok, urging users to “Stay TF from around me.”
Bush has also questioned the allegiance of fans who criticize him, and has even trolled Steelers fans. All of this prompted Steelers captain Cam Heyward to admit that Bush “can be a knucklehead,” and that it’s part of his job to “make him mature and make sure he becomes a leader of this defense one day.”
At this point, the Steelers would be thrilled if Bush can demonstrate more of the promise he showed as a rookie.
To be sure, the organization gave up a lot to acquire Bush; as noted by ESPN staff writer Bill Barnwell, the Steelers traded second- and third-round picks to move up from No. 20 to No. 10 in the 2019 Draft, draft capital roughly equivalent to the No. 2 overall pick, according to Football Perspective’s charting.
The decision not to pick up Bush’s option for 2023 means that the Steelers have declined the fifth-year option of three of their last four first-round picks. The only exception? Outside linebacker T.J. Watt (2017), who is coming off a season in which he won AP Defensive Player of the Year.
The Steelers’ Outlook at Inside Linebacker
Bush’s failure to live up to his draft status leaves the Steelers somewhat lacking at inside linebacker. The team took a step to address that by signing Myles Jack in free agency.
Meanwhile, the position group also features Robert Spillane, 2021 fourth-round pick Buddy Johnson, converted safety Marcus Allen and Ulysees Gilbert III, the latter of whom has been held back by injuries, including a fractured vertebra in his lower back.
Most recently, the Steelers selected Mark Robinson in the seventh round of this past weekend’s draft. Robinson — 5-foot-11 and 235 pounds — is a project, though, a converted running back who played just one season at linebacker at Ole Miss.
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