Burns turns 24 years old today, so Pittsburgh’s decision comes as an unwelcome birthday present. Had the Steelers opted to pick up his option, Burns would have been scheduled to earn $9.954MM in 2020, but that total would have guaranteed for injury only. If Burns had remained healthy but underwhelmed with his play during the upcoming season, Pittsburgh could have cut bait with no financial ramifications.
The 25th pick of the 2016 draft, Burns started 25 games during his first two years with the Steelers, posting four total interceptions during that time. Things fell apart in 2018, as Burns was benched multiple times and ultimately started only six contests. Football Outsiders charted Burns with just a 42% success rate in coverage, which would have ranked him in the bottom-third of the league had he posted enough snaps to qualify.
Burns isn’t necessarily a lock for the Steelers’ 2019 roster, as the club would incur only ~$1.3MM in dead money by waiving him in the coming months. If he does return, Burns is likely to be buried on Pittsburgh’s secondary depth chart. Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and free agent addition Steven Nelson project as the Steelers’ starting corners, while 2017 third-round pick Cameron Sutton and rookie third-rounder Justin Layne will also compete for snaps.
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