Artie Burns channeled his inner Doris Day when talking about his status with the Steelers Tuesday, as the team opened its mandatory minicamp.
You know, "Que será, será. Whatever will be, will be."
The Steelers declined to pick up the fifth-year option on Burns this offseason, leaving the 2016 first-round draft pick in the NFL's version of limbo. He's no longer in the Steelers' long-term plans but he's still under contract with the team for the 2019 season.
Burns' take on the message from the Steelers' decision not to pick up his option, which would have paid him $9.5 million in 2020?
"Get right or get gone. It’s simple," he said.
That's about the long and short of it. The Steelers are no longer counting on the player they selected with the 25th pick in the 2016 draft as a starter. They made that quite clear this offseason when they signed free agent cornerback Steven Nelson to a three-year, $25.5-million contract.
For Burns, it had to be an even bigger wake-up call than being benched early in the 2018 season in favor of journeyman Coty Sensabaugh.
The two began splitting time after a Week 2 loss to the Chiefs. A month later, after allowing a touchdown to the Bengals' Tyler Boyd at the end of the first half in a win at Cincinnati, Burns was out of the lineup completely.
He played just 15 defensive snaps the rest of the season, contributing only on special teams.
For the season, Burns was targeted with 28 passes according to playerprofiler.com. He allowed 17 receptions for 240 yards and four touchdown passes. That's a passer rating of 142.4, a marked increase from the 65.6 passer rating he allowed in 2017.
"I could have had a better year last year," Burns told me. "That’s what it’s all about right now. There’s nothing else. I feel like I’ve been doing pretty much a good job. Whatever happens next, happens."
Burns is slated to make $1.75 million in 2019 with a salary cap hit of just over $3 million. With the Steelers up against the salary cap -- they currently have just $984,000 in available space -- every dollar is going to count this offseason.
That means Burns might be sent packing if he doesn't earn a regular spot in the team's cornerback rotation. At just 24 years old, he could be starting over.
Burns has been a regular at the team's OTA sessions this spring, not missing a workout. He's continued to work hard. That's never been in question with him.
It's always been about what happens to him on game days. He seems to understand that.
"It’s pretty much all about me controlling what I can do," Burns said of his mindset. "The only time you can really prove yourself is when game time comes. They’re ain’t no magic. Unless you come in and make plays during games, nothing else matters."
He also understands that even if he does show improvement, it might not matter. Because of his poor play in 2018, he may have lost control of his own future.
"It’s all on them," Burns said. "It’s on me with my effort moving forward. But the decision, that’s where they come into play. I can control what I can control. I come to work every day and give the best effort I can. That’s what is going to play out. Whatever happens next, happens."
There's no doubt Burns is in football no-man's land. He's not in this team's future plans, but he's also not free to go elsewhere.
The Steelers will likely hold onto him until they at least see if they make it through training camp without any injuries. And then, he could be released or traded.
He's a former first-round draft pick who has starting experience. And he'd be better served going to a team that primarily plays man defense, not the split of man and zone the Steelers employ.
The Steelers probably could get a conditional sixth-round draft pick for him. That seems to be the going rate around the league for veteran players. They just need a team to be hit hard by injuries in the defensive backfield, as happened to the Eagles last season.
MATT SUNDAY GALLERY
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