Analysis of Steelers Restricted Free Agent Antwon Blake

Our Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus is now down to its two final Steelers free agent profiles, and today turns its attention to Steelers restricted free agent Antwon Blake.

Capsule Profile of Antwon Blake’s Career with the Steelers

Salary Cap purgatory forced Kevin Colbert to get pretty creative when it came to personnel decisions in the 2013 off season. The Steelers had little room to maneuver on the salary cap, and had just finished 8-8. Colbert nonetheless went to work, and pulled off what one commentator (OK, it was this site) described as the NFL salary cap equivalent of the Loaves and the Fishes.

Nonetheless the Steelers finished training camp with one quality back up offensive lineman and someone named Kion Wilson has Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote’s chief backup.

  • The Steelers finished 0-4 in the preseason, and it wasn’t hard to figure out why.

Nor was it hard to understand why, after making the cuts needed to get down to 53 men, Kevin Colbert scoured the wavier wire, and picked up an unprecedented 3 players between cut down day and opening day. One was Cody Wallace, a player who ended up starting the team’s final four games at center. The other was Zoltan Mezo, who piss poor punting helped cost the Steelers a disastrous loss in Oakland’s Black Hole.

The other was Antwon Blake, a little known cornerback who’d been cut by Jacksonville, after playing for the Jaguars as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2012.

Blake did little for the Steelers during the 2013 season, but he did play in 14 games and recorded 11 special teams tackles.

Nonetheless, even the most avid Steelers fans can be forgiven if they rolled their eyes when Carnell Lake invoked Blake’s name when defending the team’s decision not to draft a cornerback until the fifth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

  • Lake however, is having the last laugh about Blake.

Blake got his name in the paper early in the season, and for the right reason, when he caught fellow Steelers restricted free agent Robert Golden’s pass on the Steelers fake punt in the season owner vs. Cleveland.

But as Cortez Allen’s star faltered and Ike Taylor fell injured, Blake found himself playing cornerback in the NFL. And he didn’t well. No, he wasn’t a superstar and Brice McCain deserved to start head of him. Blake made plenty of mistakes, but he also made his share of splash plays.

Likewise, it was Blake’s forced fumble and recovery on A.J. Green in the season finale that allowed the Steelers to land the knock out punch that secured the team’s first AFC North title 3 years.

The Case for Tendering Antwon Blake

The Steelers current depth chart at cornerback consists of William Gay and Cortez Allen. That’s it. They don’t even have someone on the practice squad after that. The Steelers need to boost quality there, but they also are simply in need of bodies.

  • Steelers restricted free agent Antown Blake fills that role.

But Blake is more than just a body. He’s young, he’s got two years in the system, and he got up side. No, do not expect to see discussions of how to fit Blake’s bust in Canton along side that of Mel Blount and Rod Woodson. Nor will you expect to see his name discussed with the likes of Ike Taylor or Dwayne Woodruff.

But Blake has shown that he can play pretty well in the slot and is a viable 4th corner candidate in the NFL. And the Steelers NEED corners. Signing him to a tender helps the Steelers meet that need.

The Case Against Tendering Antwon Blake

Yes, Blake did play well, but honestly the fact that Blake did so “well” playing as the Steelers 3rd/4th corner in 2014 says more about Pittsburgh’s piss poor depth at corner than it does about Blake’s qualities as a player.

  • The Steelers need a major upgrade at corner, and Blake does not provide that upgrade.

This is a secondary that gave up record numbers of long pass plays, a chronic problem all season long. How many “essential” pieces of such a secondary are there? No, there’s no reason to tie up more salary cap space in Antwon Blake than necessary.

Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Antwon Blake

Like Robert Golden, Antwon Blake is the kind of player you want to bring back, but perhaps not at the price tag needed to offer him a restricted free agent tender. Unlike Golden, Blake does have some potential to draw interest from other teams.

  • The ideal situation for Blake would be for the Steelers to sign him to a multi year deal.

Whether the Steelers do that before or after tendering him will prove to be an interesting question. If the Steelers don’t tender Blake, that could be a sign they intend to make another splash free agency signing similar to the one they made by signing Mike Mitchell last year.

Thanks for visiting. Click here for more of the Steelers 2015 Free Agent Focus.

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