The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Carolina Panthers unrestricted free agent safety Mike Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million contract on the first day of free agency Tuesday and while his addition likely surprised a few people, he appears to be the perfect candidate to replace the outgoing Ryan Clark.
Over the course of the last several years, the Steelers have been fortunate enough to have Clark and Troy Polamalu both be interchangeable when it comes to the free and strong safety positions and the former even talked about that position flexibility as far back as 2011.
“I’m never going to be that guy,” Clark said of Polamalu, when asked if the two are interchangeable after the Steelers 31-24 playoff win over the Baltimore Ravens in early 2011, “but the (safety) position is interchangeable. You talk about two guys who have played together for a number of years now, have played this defense for a long time. He does things different ways than I do, but as far as the play-call goes we just play wherever we want as long as one safety is doing whatever is drawn up and the other is doing the other thing.”
Prior to his one season with the Carolina Panthers, Mitchell primarily played the strong safety position with the Oakland Raiders during his first four years in the league, but after Panthers starting free safety Charles Godfrey tore his Achilles’ tendon in a Week 2 of the 2013 season, Mitchell took over at free safety and played well. He talked about his position flexibility, and ability to cover, prior to the Panthers playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers back in January.
“A lot of people really get it confused, because they see me, and they see how I can be physical and hit people, and they think, ‘Oh, he has no coverage at all,’” Mitchell said, according to Phil Barber of The Press Democrat. “Whereas when I was in college, first and second down I was in the box against the run, and third down my coaches used me at free safety to help play against the pass.”
While many people seem to be focusing on he missed tackles that Mitchell had in 2013 with the Panthers, perhaps not enough attention is being brought to his coverage abilities. According to Pro Football Focus, the Ohio product was thrown at 41 times during the 2013 regular season and while 68.3% of those passes were completed, opposing quarterbacks registered a lowly 50.6 passer rating when throwing his way thanks to his four interceptions and two passes defensed. In addition, Mitchell’s 8.1 yards per completion allowed last season was nearly half of the 16.3 yards per catch that Clark allowed in 2013 with the Steelers.
So, in what other ways will Mitchell fit right in with the Steelers? Being as he was fined five times in 2013 and according to him, more than 10 times during his short NFL career, Mitchell should be right at home in the Steel City. Like his predecessor, Clark, Mitchell’s also not afraid to speak out about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
“Roger being Roger, I guess,” Mitchell said following his fifth fine of the 2013 season back in October. “To be honest, I think there is a little bit of a targeting system they have out. And I think I’m one of the guys they’ve been looking for, but I’m OK with that. The coaches and my teammates know who I am, know the type of player I am.”
Mitchell also said at that time he believes his fine money has gone “right in Roger’s pocket.”
Mitchell plays the game with a ton of passion and he’s not afraid to deliver the big hit. His aggressiveness might result in a few missed tackles, but that is one area of his game that quite possibly can be fixed. He’s thrilled to be in Pittsburgh and being that he’s not yet 27 years of age, he figures to be a fit for the Steelers for the next several years.