Steelers to pay price with defensive backs
Get out the checkbook, Dan Rooney.
The Steelers chose not to give cornerback Keenan Lewis a multiyear contract as a restricted free agent last year, in part, because he wasn't yet a starter. Lewis, in turn, might have hesitated to sign such a deal if it didn't pay him at a starter's level.
Now some team is going to pay the efficient Lewis a lot more than the $1.26 million he made in 2012 — be it the Steelers or one that grabs him as a free agent.
Where Lewis goes sets the course for the 2013 Steelers' secondary, one that hopes to be more stable and theft-prone but as statistically proficient as the NFL's top-ranked unit was this season.
That's where the hard decisions begin.
Lewis stabilized what had been a troublesome position for years, the cornerback spot opposite Ike Taylor that once alternated between Bryant McFadden and William Gay, and it's likely the Steelers would prefer to keep him more than any of the other 17 unrestricted free agents.
“I want everybody back, especially Keenan,” safety Ryan Clark said. “His play was a big reason why we finished No. 1 in yards. When we have him, it makes it a lot better.”
But it would cost $10.66 million to franchise him — one route to retaining him without giving him a multiyear deal — and that's unlikely given the Steelers are well over the salary cap.
If Lewis signs elsewhere, Cortez Allen becomes the next man up. He helped create five turnovers in the final two games and would start if Lewis leaves.
But that would significantly weaken a position of strength, nickel back, given that Allen graded out the highest of any Steelers defensive back in Pro Football Focus' play-by-play analysis. Ranked No. 17 league-wide, Allen (563 snaps) gave up only one touchdown but played the second-fewest snaps of any cornerback in the top 20.
With numerous personnel decisions to make given the seven players 30 or older on defense, the Steelers could decide it is more cost-effective to make Allen a starter. Then, they could seek out an affordable nickel back — if they think Curtis Brown isn't ready — through free agency or the draft.
Brown got most of his playing time late in the season, giving up 11 completions and a touchdown while being targeted 15 times.
The Steelers also must decide if this is the year they commit a high-round draft pick to safety, given that Ryan Clark — coming off possibly his best season — will be 34 next season and Troy Polamalu will be 32.
The concern about Polamalu isn't as much his age as his reliability; he missed much of the 2009 and '12 seasons to injury.
“Maybe I look too far ahead, but think what it could look like with both of us healthy and these young guys playing football and Ike out there,” Clark said. “It could be special.”
So for the Steelers, it's pay now or pay later. Even if the Steelers don't give Lewis a seven-figure multiyear deal, they're going to have to replace Taylor, 33; Clark and Polamalu not far down the road.
“It will be an interesting offseason,” Polamalu said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Steelers notebook: Linebacker Timmons hoping for contract extension
- Steelers plan to use smart pass rush against Seattle QB Wilson
- Steelers veteran linebacker Harrison focused on stretch run
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin ends practice with third-down work
- Steelers notebook: Tomlin not grooming successor to RB Williams
- Rookie linebacker Chickillo adjusting to role with Steelers
- Steelers kicker Boswell puts best foot forward
- Rossi: Ben, Steelers in good position entering late-season bye week
- Steelers’ Nix embraces unassuming role
- Steelers LB Moats fined minimum for facemask on Manziel
- Steelers notebook: Players get back to work after bye