In early May, the Pittsburgh Steelers declined to pick up the fifth-year option of 2019 first-round pick Devin Bush Jr., making 2022 a contract year for the 23-year-old Michigan product. The team wants to see Bush demonstrate the promise he showed as a rookie, when he recorded 109 tackles (72 solo), including nine tackles for loss, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries and a sack. But even if he does, “this is likely Bush’s last year with the Steelers,” says Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, as a strong year might allow him to command a larger second contract than the Steelers are willing to pay.
With that in mind, Brent Sobleski of Bleacher Report believes that Bush is the one player the Steelers ought to consider trading prior to the start of the regular season, arguing that Pittsburgh’s defense “doesn’t necessarily need Bush to achieve its goals.”
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Who Else Do The Steelers Have at ILB?
Yet offloading Bush would leave the Steelers decidedly thin at inside linebacker, as none of the other ILB’s on the roster possess anything approaching the speed and athleticism the former No. 10 overall pick demonstrated before he tore his ACL against the Cleveland Browns during his second season.
The Steelers did add Myles Jack — a former second-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars — in free agency. Jack may or may not be an upgrade over recently-released Joe Schobert, who received a 52.1 grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF) for 2021, this as compared to the woeful 37.7 grade PFF gave Jack.
Beyond that, the Steelers still employ Robert ‘Front of the Plane’ Spillane, who has proved to be a capable run defender but is readily exposed in the passing game, not to mention second-year man Buddy Johnson, who Kaboly has described as “a strong, downhill linebacker who could make some noise in training camp.”
After that there’s converted safety Marcus Allen, a 2018 fifth-round pick whose contributions have largely been limited to special teams; 2019 sixth-round pick Ulysees Gilbert III, who has been hampered by injuries (including a fractured vertebra) during his first three seasons; and 2022 seventh-round pick Mark Robinson, who seems destined for the practice squad, considering that he’s a converted running back who played linebacker for just one year in college.
Might Omar Khan Take a Different Approach Than Kevin Colbert?
History suggests that Pittsburgh will have Bush play out the fourth year of his contract and see where things stand after that, much like it did with 2018 first-round pick Terrell Edmunds, who had his fifth-year option declined but returns for the 2022 season on a one-year deal worth $2.5 million.
After all, it’s hard to see how Bush could fetch enough in a pre-season trade to warrant giving up on a potential bounce-back year. It’s also an open question how the organization perceives Bush’s past missteps on social media, which once prompted Steelers captain Cameron Heyward to admit that Bush “can be a knucklehead at times.”
But it’s possible that new general manager Omar Khan will take a different approach than longtime G.M. Kevin Colbert, not unlike he did with the Minkah Fitzpatrick negotiations, which recently led to a contract extension that makes Fitzpatrick the highest paid safety in the league. In the Colbert era, Fitzpatrick negotiations would not have concluded until September, as was the case with T.J. Watt (September 2021) and Cameron Heyward (September 2020).
Salary Cap Implications of a Devin Bush Trade
As for the financial implications of a possible trade, the Steelers would save Bush’s $3,068,424 salary but trigger a dead money cap charge of $2,936,230, representing a total salary cap hit of $6,004,654, or 2.8% of Pittsburgh’s 2022 salary cap, as per overthecap.com.
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