The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost free agent Terrell Edmunds to the Eagles, as their 2018 first round draft pick signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia.
Given that the Steelers and Andy Weidl have signed Guard Isaac Seumalo and tackle Le’Raven Clark away from the Eagles and as well as Nate Herbig, who is also a former Eagle, the tempting headline might be, “Eagles claw back, sign Terrell Edmunds from the Steelers.”
While that might be accurate and attention catching, the real story here behind Terrell Edmunds departure is that the Steelers shuffle at strong safety continues. Sure, the Steelers resigned Damontae Kazee. But Kazee’s 2-year, team-friendly deal shows that neither Omar Khan nor Mike Tomlin think he’s the long term answer at strong safety.
No one has been for the last ten years when the Steelers quest to fill this critical position began.
- In 2013 the Steelers traded up for Shamarko Thomas, hopping he was Troy Poamalu’s successor – Thomas started 2 games
- Will Allen served as the stopgap safety in 2015, following Polamlau’s retirement
- In 2016 the Steelers drafted Sean Davis, who started for two years
- In 2018 the Steelers signed Morgan Burnett and drafted Terrell Edmunds. Burnett was one and done.
The short hand version of this story would read, “The Steelers had suffered a succession of busts at strong safety since Troy Polamalu retired.” That’s the superficial conclusion, the quick conclusion but also the wrong one.
Yes, Shamarko Thomas was a bust. The Steelers smashed franchise precedent in trading up to get him, and he was a disaster.* Will Allen was probably one of the unsung free agent signings of the Colbert-Tomlin era, and played pretty well for a 33 year old safety in 2015.
Sean Davis had a spectacular rookie year, and he really played well during the first half of his second year. Of course the second half was a different story, but whose play didn’t decline after the injuries to Joe Haden and Ryan Shazier?
Morgan Burnett, like the rest of the 2018 Steelers defense started to come on at the end of the year – it was Burnett who batted away Tom Brady’s final pass in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. But Burnett couldn’t beat out the rookie first round pick Edmunds, and wanted out of Pittsburgh so Mike Tomlin let him go.
- And of course, many fans will always consider Terrell Edmunds “A bust.”
That’s simply wrong. Terrell Edmunds started 75 of the 79 games he appeared in. And if he was never a superstar in a defense that was on the rebound, he was always a force for stability. Yet in those five seasons, only picked off 5 passes, sacked the quarterback 5 times, recovered 1 fumble but never forced one. That’s 11 “Splash plays” out of 4,897 snaps on defense.
So his “Splash Play Percentage” was a mere 0.22%.
As Jim Wexell, (who compiled those numbers above – although the “Splash Play Percentage” is my own creation) observed, “He’s the strong safety. Should we review the playmaking numbers of the strong safeties who’ve played in Super Bowls for the Steelers? … you can look up the numbers for Mike Wagner, Donnie Shell, Carnell Lake and Troy Polamalu.”
Well, I have.
- Mike Wagner had 36 interceptions and 4 sacks in 116 starts for the Steelers
- Donnie Shell had 51 interceptions and 9.5 sacks in 162 starts for the Steelers
- Carnell Lake had 16 interceptions, 21.5 sacks and 15 forced fumbles in 154 sacks for the Steelers
- Troy Polamalu had 32 interceptions, 12 sacks, 14 forced fumbles in 142 starts for the Steelers
In that light, Terrell Edmunds’ stats look similar to those of Lee Flowers, who had 4 interceptions in 75 starts with the Steelers. But even Lee Flowers, who didn’t have Edmunds’ athletic ability, had 12 sacks, 8 forced fumbles and 7 fumble recoveries. in 75 starts with the Steelers had 4 interceptions and 12 sacks.
In 2022 as well as in 2023 I wrote free agent profiles on Terrell Edmunds arguing that while, he wasn’t a superstar, he was “good enough” to deserve a second contract.
- Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan obviously disagree.
After comparing Edmunds’ stats to his predecessors, I don’t know that I can disagree with them.
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*Here’s morsel for Steelers trivia buffs: After the Steelers drafted him, Carnell Lake commented that had Thomas been 2 inches taller, he might have been a first rounder. When Lake said the same thing 2 years later after they drafted Senquez Golson, I almost wonder if he was dooming the kid. Maybe he did….