The first in a position-by-position series examining the Steelers roster in advance of the start of free agency on March 10:*
(Free Agent Scorecard: 2 unrestricted – Brice McCain, Ike Taylor; 1 restricted – Antwon Blake)
At one time, William Gay was the lightning rod for Steelers fans at the cornerback position, the guy who got blamed for just about everything. Today, that person is Cortez Allen. Signed to a contract extension just before the start of the 2014 season that's paying him like the player he has yet to become, Allen also is due a $3 million roster bonus on March 14. This is a puzzling situation. Going into training camp in 2012, it was a commonly held opinion that Allen was on the verge of taking Keenan Lewis' starting spot, but while both had solid camps Lewis was in a contract year and ended up wanting it more. Injuries got Allen into the lineup late that season, and in two starts at the end of the year he had two interceptions, three passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Injuries nagged him at the start of 2013, and he lost his starting job. He got it back for the season's final four games during which the team was 3-1 and he contributed seven passes defensed and a pick-six in the win in Green Bay. At that point, Allen seemed to be developing into a capable starting cornerback. But the wheels came off in 2014, and Allen's confidence will have to be rebuilt. Indications are the Steelers will devote another year to this project, but it's also fair to assume 2015 is going to be do-or-die for him.
Signed to the practice squad on Dec. 9, Fogg entered the league as an undrafted rookie with the Dolphins in 2014 after playing his college football at Liberty. His measurables are good enough for the NFL, but he is having to adapt to a much higher level of competition. The Steelers do need cornerbacks, though.
A very nice pickup by the Steelers, Blake came to the team in 2013 after being waived on Sept. 1, 2013 by the Jaguars, who thought he was a safety. The Steelers saw him all along as a cornerback/special teams gunner, and he has done both of those jobs in his two seasons here. Now a restricted free agent, Blake has a chance to solidify a spot with a Steelers team that's on the rise. Restricted free agents rarely switch teams, and Blake is valued by the coaching staff, so he figures to be back in 2015. He ended the season as a regular in the nickel, and while only 5-foot-9, Blake is physical in run support and down the field when the ball arrives.
He is the most underappreciated Steelers player of his era. Around him over the past couple of seasons in the defensive backfield there have been personnel changes, players with declining skills, and injury issues, but Gay has remained a consistent and versatile contributor. Gay has been used to start, as a nickel, as a starter who moves inside on the nickel, whatever the Steelers have needed and whenever they have needed it – and especially so during his second stint with the team. Gay is an example on and off the field, from the way he works at his craft to his perpetual team-first approach to his work in the community with/for victims of domestic violence. In 2014, he tied with Brice McCain for the team lead with three interceptions, and Gay led the Steelers with 16 passes defensed. He is their best cornerback right now, and whichever one the team drafts early this year would be wise to learn from William Gay.
Photos of the 2014 Cornerbacks.
Signed last April 1 to be an extra cornerback and special teams player, McCain had out-performed those expectations by the end of the 2014 season. With Ike Taylor sidelined with a broken forearm, and once the decision was made to move on from the ineffective Cortez Allen, McCain moved into the starting lineup. He started nine games and finished tied with William Gay for the team lead in interceptions with three, and it was his pick-six that iced the outcome against the Jaguars in Jacksonville. His five passes defensed ranked fifth on the team. McCain was a nice find by the Steelers, and he has established himself here with the team. Hopefully, the relationship can continue via a new contract.
After taking a pay cut to come back to the Steelers for a 12th season, Taylor's 2014 was spoiled by a bad break in the form of a severe forearm injury on Sept. 21 in Carolina. He missed eight games and then returned to the starting lineup following the team's bye for the Nov. 30 game vs. New Orleans. The following week in Cincinnati, Taylor was out of the game in the second half with a shoulder injury, and he then was inactive for the rest of the season. During the team's season-ending four-game winning streak, Will Gay and Brice McCain were the starting cornerbacks, with Antwon Blake coming on in the nickel. In Phoenix during Super Bowl week, Taylor said he wants to play for a couple of more years, but it's unlikely that can happen with the Steelers.
Claimed off waivers from Dallas on Aug. 29, Webb played primarily on special teams when he was active and finished with two tackles. He was inactive for five games, and was in uniform but didn't play in a sixth. He will get a chance to compete at a position that seems to be wide open.