Every summer diligent beat writers breathe life into the names rookies that even the most educated Steelers fans have never heard of. More often than not, the NFL life is sucked out of those names before the second preseason game.
- Then there are those that stick around, the ones that get a second wind, so to speak.
James Pierre is (sort of) one of those unheralded undrafted rookie free agents who found his second wind and transformed it into a 3 year career. Has he done enough to earn himself a restricted free agent tender from the Steelers?
Capsule Profile of James Pierre’s Career with the Steelers
You can’t call James Pierre a rookie training camp sensation because the Steelers didn’t have training camp, so to speak in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions. In fact, it took an attentive eye to spot his name as a standout on those censored, pool reports from the camp held at Heinz Field.
But Pierre caught Mike Tomlin’s eye, and while only logged 27 snaps on defense as a rookie, he was active on special teams. Pierre worked his way into the rotation in his second year and was one of the risings stars on the Steelers defense – until he wasn’t.
Pierre struggled early on against Denver, but then closed the game with an end zone interception. A week later against the Seahawks, Pierre forced D.K. Metcalf that forced Seattle to settle for tying field goal rather than a game-winning touchdown in a game the Steelers eventually won (thanks to T.J. Watt.) A few weeks later in the tie vs. Detroit, Pierre was one of the defenders who made some exceptional plays in overtime.
When Joe Haden got hurt, Pierre stepped right in as a replacement. He did well on the road against the Chargers, but a week later in Cincinnati Joe Burrow used him and abused him so badly that he never saw another defensive snap for the rest of the year.
2022 saw James Pierre quietly revive his career. In week 6 he got his first start and, if he author any splash plays, he was one of the backups who helped beat Tom Brady. Pierre also helped get the Steelers off on the right foot with a game opening interception of Matt Ryan in the road win over the Colts.
From there on out, James Pierre only saw about a quarter of snaps with the Steelers defense, but that number also reflects game planning to stop rush-heavy offenses and an injury that kept him out for much of the road win vs the Ravens.
The Case for the Steelers Resigning James Pierre
James Pierre isn’t “the answer” for the Steelers at cornerback. He might not project as a starter. But he has shown he’s good enough to be at least a backup, first cornerback off the bench and you need players like that to win in the NFL.
The Case Against the Steelers Resigning James Pierre
Of course the Steelers need cornerbacks, but they need cornerbacks whose play is consistent. This mentality of “he’s not great, but he’s knows the system, we know him and he’s better than some guy off the street” is how the Steelers sabotaged their secondary in the middle of the teens.
Do you really want to use precious salary cap space to keep the next Antwon Blake in Pittsburgh?
Curtain’s Call on the Steelers and James Pierre
Cam Sutton might be leaving. Levi Wallace is skilled but a step slow. Ahkello Witherspoon only played in four games and got benched in Philly in favor of Pierre. Outside of that, there’s no one else in the pipeline (no offense to Arthur Maulet, but he’s got a role, but not one as a front-line, four down starter.)
James Pierre is a restricted free agent. The Steelers have the chance to keep him in Pittsburgh. They must take advantage of the opportunity.