If there was any one area of universal agreement over where the Pittsburgh Steelers absolutely needed to boost their talent as they entered the 2014 off season it was at cornerback.
Not only was the team expected to use its first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft on a cornerback (it didn’t of course), but free agency was also to be an avenue for improvement.
In the eyes of most fans, that avenue did not include signing Brice McCain from the Houston Texans. Yet, that’s just what Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin did….
Capsule Profile of Brice McCain with the Steelers
- McCain’s egregious sin you ask?
Being rated as the worst cornerback in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. To be sure, the Steelers only inked McCain to a 1 year veteran minimum deal. And it is safe to say that the Steelers never projected McCain as even a number three corner, let alone a starter. Yet that is just what happened.
- And the Steelers defense was better for it.
In fact, McCain did not log any stats in the Steelers first game and didn’t see playing time until Ike Taylor went down. He got his first extended time vs. Jacksonville and he capitalized on it, returning an interception for a touchdown and sparking an otherwise lackluster Steelers team to victory.
- McCain’s magic was hardly momentary.
In a critical Sunday Night Match up vs. the Ravens, Arthur Moats stripped the ball from Lorenzo Taliaferro and McCain was there to pick it up, returning the ball 26 yards. Ben Roethlisberger wasted little time in hooking up with Le’Veon Bell in the end zone, as the Steelers tied the score in a game they’d ultimately dominate 43-23.
The Case for Keeping Brice McCain
The Steelers 2014 Free Agent class was the largest in franchise history, and Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are rightly taking heat over the return on investment that the Steelers saw on the field from their “spending spree.” Yet, for all of the sound and fury generated by the signings, the truth is that Colbert concentrated most of the Steelers money on veteran minimum or near veteran minimum deals.
- Brice McCain signed one of those deals, and delivered excellent value for the Steelers.
No one on the South Side or in Steelers Nation will confuse McCain with being the next coming of Rod Woodson or even Dewayne Woodruff. But he showed that he was a good player. As Jim Wexell reported and Mike Tomlin later confirmed, McCain proved he deserved a chance in practice, and vindicated coaches on the field.
Brice McCain signed a “prove it” contract, and has earned a second offer. The Steelers should resign Brice McCain.
The Case Against Keeping Brice McCain
Similar to the case against Arthur Moats, it is hard to write this and keep a straight face. But here goes. The unquestioned weakness of the Pittsburgh Steelers roster is their cornerbacks. William Gay is their only proven player. Cortez Allen regressed horrendously. Ike Taylor is ready for his life’s work.
- Brice McCain is the answer? Get serious.
The Steelers need an upgrade at corner, and they won’t do it by signing someone who was their number two corner by season’s end who would have been a number four corner elsewhere.
Curtain’s Call on Steelers and Brice McCain
The flaw of course with the case against McCain is that he really isn’t being counted on to be “The Answer.” The Steelers will likely draft someone, and hopefully Mike Tomlin, Keith Bulter, and Carnell Lake can launch a successful Cortez Allen reclamation project.
McCain isn’t going to be a super star for the Steelers or someone else. But he can be a solid back up player who can step in when needed.
- McCain has shown he can contribute, and shown he can deliver excellent bang for the buck.
That’s what winning in the salary cap era comes down to, and the Steelers should resign Brice McCain and keep him in Pittsburgh. The Steelers need to exercise caution however, as McCain’s exploits have not gone unnoticed in the rest of the NFL, and 29 other NFL teams have a lot more salary cap space to spend than the Steelers do.