Looking At The Reasoning Behind The Mike Mitchell Signing

When it became apparent that the Pittsburgh Steelers would likely have enough cap space in 2014 to afford at least a mid-level starter in free agency, speculation quickly turned to what the team could do to acquire secondary help.

Attention mostly turned to the cornerback position, however, and the reports seemed to favor it as well, with rumors that the Steelers had expressed interest in Alterraun Verner, Nolan Caroll, and Captain Munnerlyn.

Free safety is where the team was scheduled to lose a starter, however, and that is indeed the position that they chose to address on the first day of free agency, signing Carolina Panthers safety Mike Mitchell.

Why Mitchell? I suspect he fits the profile of what the Steelers were looking for in their free safety.

For starters, he has good size at 6”, 210 pounds. Equally important, he has excellent speed—which is unsurprising, given that he was drafted by Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the 2009 NFL draft. He reportedly ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at his Pro Day despite pulling up lame in the last five yards.

What the Steelers need most at this point in their evolution is a rangy deep safety that can offer big-play potential and back-end support, and based on his 2013 performance on one of the best defenses in the league, for which he started 14 games, it looks like they may have found what they were looking for.

Although the one primary area of weakness in his game seems to be tackling fundamentals (Pro Football Focus has him at a concerning 18 missed tackles in 2013), he still provides a heavy-hitting enforcer on the back end, so no loss there.

But Mitchell recorded four interceptions last season in addition to forcing two forced fumbles. The last safety for the Steelers to approach that other than Troy Polamalu off the top of my head might be Darren Perry.

Despite some trying to paint him as a vast liability in coverage, his metrics stack up well, being credited for allowing one touchdown while ranking favorably in comparison to other safeties in terms of yards allowed per snap in coverage. As long as he can tackle more efficiently, there shouldn’t be much concern.

And something that surely appeals greatly to Dick LeBeau, Mitchell is an accomplished blitzer from the safety position, which creates a new wrinkle for the veteran defensive coordinator in his exotic blitz packages.

Mitchell recorded three and a half sacks a season ago, and he has seven total in his career. It’s worth noting that he didn’t have much playing time during his first four seasons with the Raiders, having made only nine starts.

A factor a bit less tangible is the fact that he adds more youth to the defensive side of the ball, scheduled only to turn 27 in June.

The belief is that Mitchell is a player on the ascent, with many who cover the Panthers considering him a priority to re-sign. Pairing him with a veteran such as Polamalu can only aid his maturation both on and off the field.

If that’s the case, and what he has to offer during his five-year contract in Pittsburgh is an improvement over what he gave to the Panthers last season, then this signing could turn out to be quite a deal.

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Jim McCarley

    I sure hope he pans out. I think the front office did their due diligence before signing just some random free agent. I don’t think it was a desperate move, either, but more of a calculated one that will prove to be a good one. I’m looking forward to the draft.

  • Josh

    darren perry? maybe Lee Flahrs, n’at?

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Yes, I am hoping for a lot more of those exotic blitzes! If they don;t get pressure from the 5 guys regularly, then they will have to come up with somthing to get pressure. That’s essential to getting better.

  • steeltown

    Love his size and speed

  • dkoy85

    I’m really excited about him. I’ve been saying they would go FS during free agency and I really wanted them to as well. After watching his college highlights he looks to be a thumper- Maybe trying for the big hit a little too much has led to his missed tackles? If that’s the case it could be wrinkled out and refined, assuming he and the Steelers want to refine it.

    Overall this could be a major steal for us. Kinda hard to believe a FS who put up the numbers he did on the #2 defense went unnoticed by other teams.

  • steeltown

    He was sought after, the Eagles and Washington come to mind.

    I think he has tons of upside, like Bryan mentioned he didn’t play much in OAK so I think he has room for growth and with Lebeau, Lake, W.Allen and Polamalu mentoring him, he has a good chance to be successful

  • 804Stiller

    I like this signing. I like the age and he seems durable. Now, we don’t have to draft the position and there is no rush to throw Shark on the field full time. I like that fact that Mitchell and Shark both have elite speed for safeties. Basically, 5 or so explosive plays given up killed us last season. So, if we can limit those 50+ yard plays to say 20 yards, the season ends differently. I’m hopeful we can get back to swarming on defense and have better overall recovery speed. I really like the idea of Shark being versatile enough to cover the slot and hybrid TEs some.

  • michael young

    I remember when the Raiders drafted him in the 2nd Round. Neither Kiper or McShay knew what to say. Their faces were priceless. They were like “who?” Later they found out a few other teams (including the Bears I believe) were looking at him in Round 2 or 3 and kind of apologized to the Raiders. He came from a smaller school (Ohio University) and wasn’t even invited to the Combine. I watched a few Panthers games last year. The kid closes quickly and likes to hit. He actually reminds me of a younger Ryan Clark in a lot of ways (only faster). This is exactly what I expect from our front office in FA. They pick up players on the rise coming up on their second contract that fit what they want to do in their scheme and plug them in and they have success (I know this is officially his third contract but he was only in Carolina for 1 season so it’s almost the same). If he starts and plays really well for the next four years this will end up being a nice value. The good news is he doesn’t have a lot of wear and tear on his body at this point. Now we don’t HAVE to go S in the first few rounds. That doesn’t mean we won’t go S but I really doubt we will. WR and CB are looking more and more like the pick in Round 1. Ebron at TE would be a nice pick as well.

  • steeltown

    Agreed. We lacked speed in the secondary.. Mitchell and Shark will provide that

  • James Kling

    They ran their draft card to the podium pretty quickly, so to speak, a rarity for Steelers in the first day or any early going of free agency…

  • Steve

    Thanks Matt – Bryan is vacationing on Spring Break. Mitchell will be coached well and hopefully he can get better tackling.

  • steeltown

    Im not Matt haha… but yes, I think Lake and others will be able to teach him better tackling technique

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    Due to his size, athleticism, and position coming from top of my head best comparison would be Carnell Lake. Now I’m not comparing them both same as a player, but… right now I’m seeing two different kind of players in Mitchell. The player he is now and the player he’ll be, one day they both will meet (using a quote from the movie Replacement!) Looking at parts, he most definitely have the tools to become a pro bowler on our defense.

    Still trying to wrap around my head, this signing was fascinating!

  • treeher

    Steelers play AT Carolina this year.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Not a good comparison IMO. Lake was an expert in one on one WR coverage. Mitchell is more of a hitter.

    I still like the signing. But Lake was a CB/S hybrid. Mitchell is not.

  • shawn

    most thing i like is that looks like he can blitz … would have liked more of a proven playmaker !

  • shawn

    look more closely at his numbers … very pedestrian !

  • shawn

    Wondering why they did not go after Verner hard enough ???… wasn’t that contract doable … much better bargain in my eyes than the Mitchell contract (please do not bring up guaranteed money)

  • dkoy85

    His numbers looked better than Clarks numbers coming from the Redskins. He played an important role on the 2nd best defense in the league and is just getting started. I think the proverbial arrow is pointing up. And his first and second year numbers are very affordable should they feel he didn’t work out.

    He’ll be an upgrade over Clark and I think he’ll prove his worth. What is it that you don’t like about him? Who, in that price range, would you have rather seen signed?

  • shawn

    For Sure he is an upgrade over Clark (that wouldnt be hard) , but looking at his numbers from last year more closely they really are nothing to get excited about … 1st off take away the minn game and he did very little play making not to mention if you actually look at the second half of the season (actually last 10 games ) he did almost NOTHING which coincides more in the line at what he did in Oak where contrary to what is being reported did get substantial playing time

    I think those 2 factors indicate to me that he is not likely to add much play making ability nor is his arrow pointing up but rather he had an aberration over the first few games of last year and got someone to overpay for him as a result !

    I would have loved if they had gone after Verner harder .. or paid that extra few million where it looked like we could have afforded it this year and gotten more of a middle of the road somebody !

  • dkoy85

    Good points. Hopefully when he comes in as the expected starter(which he has never been until an injury), he gets starter reps in training camp and Lake can help him progress. We need somebody in the backfield that let’s Troy be Troy and I think this is the guy. I still believe his arrow is pointed up.

  • shawn

    If he is on his way up … more power to us, i think it turns out to be a great signing .. we will have to wait and see i guess !