The Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback situation entering the 2015 off season in general and free agency specifically was pretty simple: They needed to upgrade. How are things going so far? Well let’s do a quick review:
- Brice McCain bolted to the Dolphins
- Patrick Robinson visited the Steelers then signed with the Chargers
- Sterling Moore visited the Steelers then signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Restricted free agent Antwon Blake got tendered, and then he got arrested for public intoxication
Sounds rather dire doesn’t it? Clearly, the Steelers cornerback situation isn’t evolving under ideal circumstances. But from a historical perspective, it has been worse in past off seasons, a lot worse.
Steelers Cornerback Situation Circa 1997
It has been a while, but think back to the 1997 off season and the Steelers look set at corner by comparison. The Steelers cornerback situation beginning the 1997 season saw their top three cornerbacks heading to free agency. Here’s how things played out:
- Rod Woodson signed with San Francisco, calling the Steelers offer insulting (even though he’d turned down a very lucrative deal the previous summer)
- Willie Williams, who started 15 of 16 games in 1996 signed with Seattle
- Deon Figures signed with Jacksonville
At one point in the off season, the top cornerback on the Steelers depth cart was none other than Randy Fuller (the guy whose claim to fame was breaking up the Hail Mary in the 1995 AFC Championship game — Fuller never did anything else.)
So while the current Steelers cornerback situation is hardly ideal, they’re way better off today than at this point in the 1996 season.
Which isn’t to say the Steelers shouldn’t be concerned about cornerback because they should.
Steelers Options at Cornerback in 2015
But there’s a difference between being concerned, and making personnel decisions out of fear. And if there’s one thing Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have shown, is that they very rarely if ever make personnel decisions out of fear. The Steelers obviously had interest in Robinson and Moore or else they would not have brought them in for a workout at the South Side.
- But they also wanted Brice McCain back, but had zero intention of overpaying for him.
That’s proven to be a sound personnel and salary cap strategy. After all, one could argue that extending Cortez Allen’s contract last season was a move motivated by fear, and right now it looks like it was a mistake. So don’t be upset that Kevin Colbert refused to panic.
But it will be interesting to see what decision he makes next. Right now the Steelers options would seem to be:
- Go all in on Cortez Allen’s rebound and Antwon Blake’s development
- Engage in some serious bargain hunting at the bottom of the free agent pool
- Commit to getting a projected starting caliber corner in early in the 2015 NFL Draft
So the Steelers cornerback situation does leave them with options. Cortez Allen bouncing back is the ideal situation, but Cortez’s performance since his late season flashes at the end of 2012 has left a lot to be desired. Antwon Blake can be counted on to continue to improve, but he really doesn’t project as a starter.
Last year the Steelers picked Brice McCain off of the scrap heap and it turned out well, and Kevin Colbert has an incredible eye for finding talented players who no one else seems to want. But even Colbert can’t always transform a lump of cast-off coal into a golden edition to the roster. Look no further than Cam Thomas for evidence.
And the Steelers will most certainly target cornerback in the draft, something they were expected to do in 2014 NFL Draft.
How Things Played Out at Corner in 1997…
Incidentally, the last time the Steelers drafted a cornerback in the first round of the NFL draft was 1997, when they took Chad Scott out of the University of Maryland. Chad Scott won the starting job and turned out to be a pretty good corner over the course of his career, protestations of some fans to the contrary.
The Steelers also signed Donnell Woolford on the same day they drafted Scott.
- Unfortunately, Wolford struggled mightily as a starter, and had to be benched.
Once again, Carnell Lake made the switch from safety in time for a key Steelers victory over Denver, and his move ultimately helped the Steelers reach the 1997 AFC Championship game. Carnell Lake of course remains with the Steelers as a secondary coach.
Hopefully whatever moves the Steelers make at corner don’t prompt Lake to suggest the Steelers relive the old day by shifting Shamarko Thomas, Robert Golden or Mike Mitchell to cornerback.
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