Steelers Lose Out to Broncos in Bid for Free Agent Safety: Report

Mike Tomlin

Dylan Buell/Getty Images Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers reacts from the sideline on November 28, 2021.

On April 7, Mike Klis of 9News Denver broke the news that the Denver Broncos had reached an agreement with safety Kareem Jackson on a one-year deal worth up to $5 million. Just minutes after Klis fleshed out the details on 9news.com, ESPN senior NFL reporter Jeremy Fowler took to Twitter to reveal that the Pittsburgh Steelers had “made a push” to sign Jackson, but the “Broncos closed it out.”

Though it might seem curious that the Steelers would pursue a free agent who will turn 34 on April 10, the one-year deal suggests that Pittsburgh is OK with a stopgap option while it searches for a long-term replacement for safety Terrell Edmunds, who became a free agent after the Steelers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract. More than three weeks into the free agent signing period, Edmunds remains unsigned.

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Jackson Is a Former 1st-Round Pick at Cornerback

As for Kareem Jackson, he’s a former first-round pick of the Houston Texans, who drafted him No. 20 overall in 2010 out of the University of Alabama. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds, he spent most of his nine seasons with the Texans playing either left or right cornerback, but began to make the transition to safety near the end of his time in Houston.

When he went to Denver in 2019 on a three-year, $33 million contract he did so to play safety, where he made 71, 89 and 88 tackles between 2019-21, according to Pro Football Reference.

Klis called Jackson “arguably the best active player who has never made a Pro Bowl, even though many cornerbacks and safeties picked ahead of him came nowhere near lasting 13 seasons in the league.”

And while he has a lot of mileage on his tires, so to speak, availability — to borrow a word Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin might use — has never been a problem for Jackson, as he has made at least 10 starts every year he has been in the league.

All told he has appeared in 176 NFL games (with 168 starts), having been credited with 807 total tackles (645 solo), including 28 tackles for loss, 104 passes defensed, 20 interceptions, seven forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries and three sacks. He has scored four defensive touchdowns during the course of his career, three coming on interception returns and one via fumble return.

In 2020, he was on the field for all 1,083 of Denver’s defensive plays, and in 2021 he was a part of 95% of the defensive snaps.


The Steelers Declined to Pick Up Terrell Edmunds’ Fifth-Year Option in May 2021

Of course, the Steelers are in the market for a strong safety only because the team elected not to pick up Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option, which would have cost $6.573 million. In effect, that made 2021 a “contract year” for Edmunds, one in which he recorded 89 tackles in 17 games, including eight tackles for loss, two interceptions, six passes defensed and a sack, per Pro Football Reference. The Steelers drafted Edmunds No. 28 overall out of Virginia Tech in 2018.

In a May 2021 story, SB Nation’s Dave Schofield explored the possible reasons the Steelers did not pick up Edmunds’ option, saying that despite Edmunds’ serviceable stats, he hadn’t lived up to the expectations of a first-round draft pick.

However, Schofield wrote, the decision might have come down to financial considerations, not Edmunds’ performance, especially given that the Steelers already were set to pay safety Minkah Fitzpatrick $10.6 million in 2022.

“Had the Steelers picked up Edmunds’ fifth-year option,” Schofield wrote, “it would have more than doubled their positional spending just between the contracts of [Edmunds and Fitzpatrick] and not taking into account any additional players. Based on current contracts for 2022, the Steelers would have shot up to 8th in the NFL with just those two salaries.”

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