The Pittsburgh Steelers have quite a few free agents, especially on defense, that they would probably like to re-sign.
Consider veteran safety Damontae Kazee one of those free agents, and in his latest conversation with the media, he left no doubt whether he wants to return to the Steelers next season.
“I hope I come back,” Kazee said according to Steelers reporter Chris Adamski of Triblive.com. “But business is business. I can’t hold my head down. Balance the good and bad.
“I know how to get to another team. I have been there and done that. I have been in that position before.”
Kazee was a free agent just last offseason when he signed a one-year contract with the Steelers.
Kazee’s Market Value Heading Into NFL Free Agency
Kazee has been a playmaker and ballhawk throughout his six-year NFL career. Despite only making four starts in 2022, Kazee intercepted 2 passes and recorded 2 pass defenses. He also had 20 combined tackles last season.
He didn’t fill the stat sheet like his previous seasons, but Kazee spent the early part of the season on injured reserve with a broken forearm. Then on September 21, the NFL suspended him three games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Kazee finally played his first game for the Steelers after the team’s bye week on November 13.
With the playing time he received during the second half of the season, Kazee played well. Based on the player grades from Pro Football Focus, Kazee was the Steelers’ fourth-best performing defender from the 2022 season.
Likelihood Steelers Re-Sign Kazee
It’s a little surprising the 29-year-old “hopes” to return to the Steelers. Missing eight games obviously cut into Kazee’s playing time, but even in the nine contests where he dressed, the veteran safety didn’t see the field as much as he had in previous years.
In the games where Kazee dressed, he lined up for 54% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps.
That was Kazee’s lowest snap count percentage since his rookie season. From 2018-21, he played at least 77% of his team’s defensive snaps when active.
The lack of playing time for Kazee could be easily explained by the presence of All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds on the Steelers roster. But while playing time was limited for Kazee in Pittsburgh during 2022, Adamski proposed a scenario where that could change dramatically next fall.
“Kazee’s skillset more suits him to play the Fitzpatrick role than “in the box” (his PFF tackling grade notwithstanding),” wrote Adamski. “But, perhaps in a nod to the quality of the trio at the position, the Steelers in 2022 deployed a three-safety package much more often than in recent memory.
“Surely, they would be open to a similar arrangement in 2023. But in a salary-cap league, can the Steelers afford to pay “starter’s money” to three safeties? And will Kazee find more opportunities for playing time elsewhere?
“Another option is a Fitzpatrick-Kazee tandem, while letting Edmunds walk.”
Just like Kazee, Edmunds is a pending free agent. Edmunds will likely demand more money on the open market, which could make Kazee a more attractive option if the Steelers choose to spend money elsewhere in free agency.