When I think of Damontae Kazee reaching free agency, I can’t help but remember my old wrestling coach the late Dave Moquin.
Moquin is an amateur wrestling Hall of Famer who coached for 42 years at Wheaton High School in Maryland. To understand why Kazee’s rendezvous with free agency reminds me of Moquin, let’s jump right into his time with the Steelers are the case for keeping him in Pittsburgh.
Capsule Profile of Damontae Kazee’s Career with the Steelers
The Steelers signed Damontae Kazee last spring shortly after the 2022 NFL Draft. Injuries limited him to 9 games with the Steelers.
It is safe to say that no player with such a thin Steelers resume has reached free agency and generated the type of attention that Kazee has. And that’s where Mr. Moquin comes in.
One of the things that made Moquin a Hall of Famer is that he was open to letting anyone come out for the team. Whether you were a senior who’d never wrestled, a late season transfer, a kid coming off the ineligible list, or just curious, Moquin would give you a shot at any point in the season. We’ll explain how this ties to Kazee in a moment.
Steelers coaches took a liking to Kazee during training camp, and devised a 3 safety scheme that featured Kazee, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds on the field at the same time.
- Unfortunately, a late summer injury cost him the first 8 games of the season.
Analysis of the Steelers 2022 season generally breaks down along the “Before the Bye and After the Bye” storylines and then builds the narrative around T.J. Watt’s return to the lineup and Kenny Pickett’s improvement. And those storylines are by and large correct.
- But they overlook Damontae Kazee’s contributions.
In Kazee’s first game, he played 100% of the snaps against the New Orleans Saints and intercepted Andy Dalton in the 4th quarter, setting up an insurance touchdown drive. In the third quarter of the season finale against the Browns, Kazee intercepted Deshaun Watson with the Steelers holding a 13-3, setting up Najee Harris’ touchdown.
During the last nine games of 2022, Kazee defensed two passes, and made 20 tackles while playing 54% of the defensive snaps.
The Dave Moquin Case for the Steelers Resigning Damontae Kazee
The problem with Dave Moquin and the short-timers on the Wheaton wrestling team was that liked to tell fish stories about them. No, he LOVED to tell fish stories about them. Take “CJ” as an example.
CJ was a junior who’d joined the team in the 2nd week of January. He’d transferred from Oxen Hill where he’d wrestled, but had little experience. He wrestled about 8 JV matches for Wheaton in dual meets, winning a couple of those and won a match or two in the JV tournament. His senior year he was ineligible until February. He won one JV match, lost one on varsity, and then lost cleanly in the County tournament to the kid who went on to be a Regional champion.
But this is how Moquin told it:
CJ came two us in the last 2 weeks of the season his junior year. He’d never wrestled before but won both of the match we put him in . Then almost placed in the JV tournament. The next year he couldn’t wrestle until February, but he won both of his matches and almost upset the kid who went on to become the Regional Champion.
So if Moquin were to make the case for the Steelers resigning Damontae Kazee it would go like this:
We signed Kazee after the draft. Thanks to injuries he barely practiced in training camp. But stepped in for Minkah against the Saints and we didn’t miss a beat. He made a crucial, momentum shifting interception in that game, another in the season finale and played a critical role in subbing for Fitzpatrick again in the Christmas Eve win over the Raiders.
Or something like that.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning Damontae Kazee
It would be a mistake to minimize Kazee’s contributions to the Steelers turnaround in the 2nd half of the season. But it would also be wrong to over-emphasize them.
Kazee’s ball-hawking ability is welcome and stands in stark contrast Terrell Edmunds’ lack of “Splash Plays” But Edmunds has been stabilizing influence on the defense. Edmunds is also only 27 whereas Kazee has just turned the big 3-0.
Kazee is a “nice to have” befitting from and off season of salary cap surplus. Like 2022’s salary cap surplus, the Steelers are in a different place in 2023.
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and Damontae Kazee
The Steelers situation with Damontae Kazee is similar to Benny Snell’s (see Snell’s free agent profile if you’re scratching your head.)
- Whereas Snell provides depth, Kazee delivers a lot more.
Whether it’s been cycling in “the big safety,” linebacker Terence Garvin in on third downs back in ‘13, drafting Ryan Shazier in ‘14, signing Morgan Burnett in ’18 or trying to convert Marcus Allen from a safety to an inside linebacker, Mike Tomlin has coveted a player who can play the middle like a linebacker while covering deep like a defensive back.
- Together Fitzpatrick, Edmunds and Kazee give Mike Tomin that versatility.
In a perfect world, the Steelers would resign both Damontae Kazee and Terrell Edmunds. But unless one of them accepts a very generous home team discount, salary cap realities mean that won’t happening.
- So which safety to sign?
Well Moquin was also a football coach, and I’d love to pick his brain on this one. Alas, he’s no longer around.
So I’ll just go with my gut and say the Steelers should stick with Edmunds and let Kazee walk – even as I smile to myself thinking that if Mr. Moquin were telling the story, Kazee would have earned a spot in the Steelers Hall of Honor after just nine games.
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