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Steelers notebook: Cornerback Allen 'still part of plan'

| Sunday, March 20, 2016, 6:06 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen plays against the Bills on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015 at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

BOCA RATON, Fla. — The Steelers cornerback situation is still murky, at best.

Cortez Allen can clear that up quickly if he is able to rebound from back-to-back disappointing years since signing a $25 million contract the day before the start of the 2014 season.

General manager Kevin Colbert was non-committal about Allen's role for the upcoming season or even if there will be one.

“Well, you know, we're still trying to determine where he is from a health standpoint,” Colbert said. “We'll make judgments accordingly.”

Allen was placed on injured reserve for the second consecutive season and had knee surgery. Allen lost his starting job two seasons in a row before getting injured.

The Steelers could part ways with Allen with a post-June 1 designation release that would save them $4.4 million in cap space, but will seemingly give him one more chance to prove himself during the preseason.

“Well, right now, he's still part of the plan because he's under contract,” Colbert said. “Is he healthy? We're not sure at this point. We'll determine that a little further down the line. He has a little more time to prove his readiness one way or another.”

Dan's the man

With the loss of Steve McLendon to free agency, the Steelers have only Daniel McCullers on the roster at nose tackle. Even though McCullers played in fewer than 10 percent of the defensive snaps last year, Colbert likes the production they got out of him.

“Dan has shown when he has played, he's really been productive,” Colbert said. “On production per snap, the basics, his production is pretty good. So, can he continue to develop and help us? We think so.”

Colbert said it is still a possibility to address the defensive line in free agency and the draft. The Steelers don't have an established backup to either defensive end positions behind Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.

“Will there be depth on the defensive line in this draft? Absolutely,” Colbert said. “Again, it's a very deep draft on defense, particularly on the defensive line. Could we still add a guy from free agency? Yes, if it makes sense, as the market continues to evolve. So really all of those things come into play.”

Miller changed it all

Martavis Bryant's impending suspension did not force the Steelers into signing free agent tight end Ladarius Green. But Heath Miller's retirement did.

Colbert said if Miller had not retired, they wouldn't have pursued Green, or any tight end, in free agency. Green signed a four-year, $20 million deal a day after free agency started.

“We really couldn't have made a fit with what Heath would have cost us from a cap standpoint,” Colbert said. “Once he retired, we felt we had to address that.”

Miller was due to count $7.2 million against the cap in 2016. With his retirement, the Steelers gained $4 million in cap space.

Direct competition

When the Steeler signed Denver veteran free agent left tackle Ryan Harris last week, it wasn't to anoint him the starter. It was to provide “direct competition” for Alejandro Villanueva, who started 10 games last year for the injured Kelvin Beachum.

“He knows how to play. He started at left tackle. He has also started at guard and at right tackle. He will provide great competition for the left tackle spot,” Colbert said of Harris. “Whoever doesn't win the spot will provide great depth.”

Harris started all 19 games, including the Super Bowl, for the Broncos last year filling in for the injured Ryan Clady.

Return of Harrison?

Colbert reiterated what he said last month about linebacker James Harrison — the organization wants Harrison to return.

However, Colbert said Harrison isn't going to return for a 14th season just to come back.

“James is not going to come back just to be here,” Colbert said. “He wants to feel and know that he'll be a contributor. If he does that and feels good about it, then he'll come back.”

The Steelers will have to take Harrison's word if he is able to come back and perform at a high level. Colbert doesn't anticipate Harrison, if he returns, to participate in any spring practices.

“The real test won't come until a real game, not even a preseason game,” Colbert said. “But he has to know. He knows where he wants to be physically, and if he feels that, he'll come back. If not, he won't.”

Still looking

Even though the free agency market has dried up considerably in two weeks, the Steelers will continue to look for bargains to help out their depth.

Colbert said the Steelers could add a free agent or two down the line for the right price.

“As the market dries up a little bit, we can maybe find a guy that we can make fit, because we don't have a lot of cap flexibility,” Colbert said. “We will stay active in free agency, really up through the draft and after.”

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