PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sean Davis couldn't help but notice the big-money contracts fellow NFL safeties landed during free agency. It was impossible not to.
Landon Collins scored $84 million from the Washington Redskins. Earl Thomas snagged $55 million from Baltimore. Tyrann Matthieu and LaMarcus Joyner both signed for more than $40 million.
That's life-changing money.
Still, Davis insists he's entering the fourth and final year of the rookie contract he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2016 focused on taking a step forward after an occasionally bumpy 2018, not a possibly lucrative payday that beckons next spring.
"Yeah I think the safety market went up," Davis said Tuesday after participating in organized team activities for the first time after sitting out the first two weeks with what he described as overall stiffness.
"That just puts a little more pressure on me to get the job done and to compete with (those) contracts but like I said, it's no pressure. I'm not putting no pressure on myself. No pressure on my team. I'm just trying to do the best I can."
Something the Steelers need Davis to do if they want to bounce back from a late-season collapse in which they let a 2½-game lead in the AFC North disappear over the final month.
Pittsburgh moved him from strong safety to free safety last summer, believing Davis' physicality and experience would help him be a difference-maker in the secondary after cutting Mike Mitchell.
Things didn't exactly work out as planned. Paired with rookie strong safety Terrell Edmunds, Davis had a respectable 80 tackles, but also finished with just one interception as part of a secondary that grabbed just six in all and a defense that had only eight in 566 pass attempts, 28th in the league.
"One interception is not acceptable," Davis said.
Not if Davis wants to close the gap between the player he thinks he can be and the player who has put together three seasons in which flashes of brilliance have been followed by bouts of inconsistency and a bit of bad luck. One snap against the Los Angeles Chargers last season symbolized all three.
Pittsburgh was leading 23-7 late in the third quarter when Los Angeles quarterback Philip Rivers dropped back to pass . He tried to thread the ball to wide receiver Keenan Allen in the end zone only to have Davis and Steelers cornerback Joe Haden jump the route. Yet rather than knock it down or pick it off, they smacked into each other. The ball popped up in the air and into Allen's awaiting arms for a touchdown, the spark that propelled the Chargers to a comeback victory.
Aggression has never been a problem for the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Davis, whose massive biceps along with the visor that shields his eyes from view create an intimidating presence. He's not afraid to throw his body around, a mindset that hasn't cost him much in terms of playing time. He's been remarkably durable. When he sat out the 2018 regular-season finale with a quadriceps injury, it marked the first game in his career he was forced to watch in street clothes.
Davis believes he's taken a step forward in each of his first three seasons. He understands he'll have to take another one to help Pittsburgh get back to the playoffs.
Though he insists he's not worrying about his long-term prospects, he did switch agents over the winter, hiring Drew Rosenhaus to represent him in his final year before potential free agency.
"I just needed a change," Davis said. "Drew is a top agent. He wants the best for me."
Whether that means staying in Pittsburgh is uncertain. The Steelers typically make a concerted effort to keep players they covet from hitting the open market, yet Davis said the club has yet to reach out about a possible new deal.
It's something he's trying not to worry about. He's more concerned about his relationship with Edmunds — the two spent time after practice ended Tuesday putting in extra work in one of the end zones — and getting a firmer grasp of what his role is in defensive coordinator Keith Butler's system.
"No big plays," Davis said. "That's really my big thing. More turnovers. We need more turnovers. Defense definitely has an uphill battle this year but I know we can get it done."
NOTES: The Steelers signed former players William Gay and David Johnson as coaching interns for 2019. Gay, a former cornerback, played 10 of his 11 seasons in the NFL with the Steelers, the last in 2017. Johnson, a former tight end/fullback, spent five of his seven seasons in the league in Pittsburgh. He last played in 2016.
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