Steelers bring back cornerback William Gay

Mark Kaboly
| Tuesday, March 8, 2016, 12:21 p.m.

William Gay made the mistake once before. It wasn't going to happen a second time.

Gay, set to become a free agent Wednesday, decided against testing the market like he did a few years ago and agreed to terms Tuesday on a three-year deal to stay with the Steelers.

“Will is thrilled to continue his career in the place it started,” agent Jerrold Colton said. “He loves everything about being a Steeler — the organization, the coaching staff, the fans, the city and Steeler Nation.”

Financial terms weren't immediately known, and Colton said it is his policy not to divulge that information. Gay's last contract was for $4.5 million over three years.

Gay's signing was a priority for the Steelers before the start of the new league year set for 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Gay, 31, was one of the few bright spots in the Steelers secondary last year. He didn't allow a touchdown reception during the regular season and the playoffs. He finished with a pair of interceptions and six pass breakups with 94 passes thrown in his direction, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Steelers are thin at cornerback heading into the spring with Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin set to become free agents. Only Ross Cockrell and Cortez Allen have any experience at cornerback besides Gay on the roster, but Cockrell was a part-time player last year and Allen could be released as a result of two underwhelming seasons after signing a $25 million contract.

The Steelers have last year's second-round pick Senquez Golson, but he missed the entire year with a shoulder injury. They also used a fourth-round selection on Doran Grant last year, but he was cut, re-signed and spent a portion of the season on the practice squad.

Gay provides a solid and versatile No. 1 cornerback for the Steelers, who finished 30th against the pass last year.

Even though the unit struggled, it wasn't Gay's fault.

Gay was rarely thrown at but still was able to be productive. Against the Bengals in December, he set an NFL record when he returned an interception for a touchdown for the fifth consecutive time. He also added 58 tackles and a sack.

Gay has been durable as well.

He has played in 144 consecutive games, the longest streak among active NFL cornerbacks. Gay played in the fourth-most snaps among cornerbacks last year.

Gay could have tested free agency and likely been paid more money but decided against that route again.

After starting a career-high 15 games in 2012, Gay left for the Cardinals but for good reasons.

Ike Taylor was still entrenched as the No. 1, and the Steelers had paid for promising young cornerbacks in Allen and Keenan Lewis. So Gay bolted to the Cardinals and surrounded himself with some familiar faces: coach Ken Whisenhunt, defensive coordinator Ray Horton and cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend.

Gay went on to have a solid season but due to an escalator clause in his contract, his salary was to balloon to more than $3 million in 2013, forcing the Cardinals to release him.

Three days later, Gay signed a three-year deal to return to the Steelers, for whom he transformed himself into the most dependable corner on the roster.

Gay marks the third would-be free agent the Steelers signed in two days, joining Robert Golden and Darrius Heyward-Bey.

Mark Kaboly is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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