For the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Steelers have declined the fifth-year contract option for their former first-round draft pick.
It was inside linebacker Devin Bush’s turn Monday, meaning he will not be guaranteed a $10.892 million salary in 2023. ESPN.com first reported the Steelers declined Bush’s option, and a source confirmed the decision to the Tribune-Review.
The Steelers, in fact, have declined the fifth-year option for three of their past four first-round picks. The only player who had his option exercised was outside linebacker TJ Watt, the top pick in 2017.
Bush, the No. 10 overall pick in 2019 whose career has been slowed by an ACL injury, will become a free agent in March. The Steelers had until 4 pm to decide whether to exercise the option that accompanies all first-round selections.
Safety Terrell Edmunds, the team’s first-round pick in 2018, did not have his option picked up last spring.
Seeking to solidify the position following Ryan Shazier’s spinal cord injury in December 2017, the Steelers moved up 10 spots in the 2019 draft to select Bush, the former Michigan linebacker with 4.43 speed and the consensus second-best inside linebacker in his class.
The Steelers gave up a second-round pick that year and a 2020 third-rounder to Denver for the right to select Bush. And, as a rookie, he showed he was worth the investment. Bush led the Steelers and all NFL rookies with 109 tackles and 72 solo stops. He also led all NFL rookies with six takeaways.
Bush tied for the team lead with four fumble recoveries, and he intercepted two passes and had nine tackles for loss.
His second season was cut short after five games when he tore his ACL in a game against Cleveland, ending his season.
Bush struggled to recapture his speed and agility upon his return last season. He played in 14 out of 17 games, missing the final two regular-season games because he was on the reserve/covid list.
Bush’s contributions dropped to 70 tackles and just two for a loss. He also played a career-low 79% of all defensive snaps and, at times, was replaced by Rob Spillane in the dime package.
After a November loss at the Los Angeles Chargers, coach Mike Tomlin said Bush’s play had been “spotty at times” during the season, adding that “it hasn’t been at the level of consistency that he would like or we would like.”
The gamble last year at this time to decline Edmunds’ fifth-year option proved to be a sound business decision for the Steelers. A four-year starter at strong safety, Edmunds became a free agent in March but did not get any multi-year offers.
The Steelers eventually resigned Edmunds to a one-year deal worth $2.537 million. Had the fifth-year tag been exercised, the Steelers would have paid Edmunds $6.753 million this year.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .