The Steelers will introduce their newest safety Thursday afternoon, and at first blush, their signing of Mike Mitchell looks to be low risk, high reward.
Only $5.25 million of Mitchell’s five-year, $25 million contract is guaranteed. His contract is so backloaded that if Mitchell doesn't work out, the Steelers would only have $2.85 million in dead money on their books if they released him after two seasons.
What also makes the signing of Mitchell look like a good one for the Steelers is that he fills a glaring need, and, according to ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, the fifth-year veteran still has plenty of upside.
Mitchell did not start regularly until last season, and he took a big step forward, recording 74 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Panthers while intercepting four passes and forcing a pair of fumbles.
“I think the arrow is clearly pointing up,” Williamson said of Mitchell, who turns 27 in June. “He can be a deep center field guy, he can play man coverage on tight ends and big receivers, he’s got a lot of range, he’s a real good blitzer. There’s a lot of ability there and a good team got a lot out of him where a bad team got nothing out of him.”
Indeed, Mitchell didn't blossom until after he left Oakland for Carolina last year.
The Raiders had made him a surprise second-round draft pick in 2009 – Mitchell had been largely unknown but wowed Oakland during his pro day workout – and he never lived up to expectations with them.
Everything changed when he switched teams, and the fact that Mitchell played sporadically during his first four seasons makes Williamson think the 6-foot, 205-pounder can still improve, especially when it comes to tackling.
“His biggest negative is he misses a lot of tackles and maybe he’ll get better at that because he really doesn't have a lot of experience,” said Williamson, a former NFL scout. “He is better in coverage than he is as a run-support player.”