Since his sudden, recent release from the Kansas City Chiefs, Stanford Routt has been regarded as the top available, free agent cornerback. His name has been brought up in conversations regarding possible championship contenders in need of positional depth.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost their best cornerback, Ike Taylor, in the opening moments of a week 13 victory against the Baltimore Ravens. Taylor's diagnosis is a fractured ankle, requiring a minimum of two weeks recovery; if not longer. Unlike years past, there are no experienced veterans waiting in line, like Bryant McFadden or William Gay. Keenan Lewis, who has played more like a top corner with each passing game in 2012, will take over for Taylor drawing each opponent's top receiver. However, the Steelers only options beyond Lewis are three players who have never started an NFL game any higher than nickelback, in the second years of their respective careers.
The Houston Texans are in a similar situation. Johnathan Joseph has missed two games while dealing with hamstring and groin injuries. Their nickelback Brice McClain, was recently placed on injured/reserve, designated for return in time for Super Bowl week. Alan Ball, the player who replaced Joseph in week 12, missed their week 13 matchup against the Tennessee Titans due to a foot problem. Left with Kareem Jackson, Brandon Harris, and Roc Carmichael, the Texans currently have only three healthy corners; and like the Steelers, the latter two players are in their second years, also.
There are two simple, seemingly obvious reasons why Routt would rather play in Houston, and not in Pittsburgh. First, Texas is Routt's home state. He attended college at Houston. He was born in Austin. It would be safe to assume that Routt has friends and family in, or near, that area. One could hardly blame him for wanting to play in a familiar setting. Secondly, with the Texans looking like the AFC's eventual top seed; one can hardly blame a player for signing with a team with a legitimate championship opportunity. However, had the second reason been that important; were the Texans that much more desirable of a choice?
The Texans called Routt in for a workout on Monday, and on Tuesday, the Steelers offered him a similar invitation. Considering most teams are in similar salary cap situations, no team was going to offer Routt more than the veteran minimum required by the collective bargaining agreement. As news of the tryout began stirring swirls in the speculation surrounding the severity of Taylor's injury, Routt stunned and shunned the Steelers by signing with the Texans before appearing for his scheduled meeting.
Routt, who will now be playing with his third team in the past two seasons, is 29 years old. Considering the negative reputation he is earning around the coaches water-coolers, he must be considering his future in the NFL as he signs his new contract. He has no guaranteed future past the end of this season. Not many teams will look at him as a prime option in the off-season. Surely, his best move would be to sign with a team he can possibly earn a few more years with.
While the Texans have been without Joseph, they expect him to return, possibly as soon as this week. Ball is listed as day-to-day. Gary Kubiak quickly promoted Harris to the nickel, when McCain hit IR. Carmichael has potential to be productive given playing time. While McCain will be missed, his loss is not as detrimental as Taylor's.
Pittsburgh's trio of young corners are relatively unknowns. Their second starter Lewis is set to become a free agent himself, at the end of the year. Taylor, who is already over 30, won't be in Pittsburgh forever; and could possibly be playing out the final years, of his final contract. If Routt were looking to the future, the Steelers would seemingly be the more opportune situation. Yet, Routt didn't even bother to entertain the Steeler's test drive.
It goes without saying that Routt's agent spoke to the Steelers on their intentions for his client. Obviously, the Steelers were very interested in acquiring his services, since the agent did schedule a workout time for Tuesday. However, how that conversation played out, could have affected Routt's eventual signing with Houston.
Certainly, Routt would have been promised an opportunity to compete with the other corners on the depth chart; however, Tomlin would most likely have wanted him to work his way up. Routt would have started out competing against DeMarcus Van Dyke for the fourth string corner and special teams spot. He would not simply step into a starting role in LeBeau's defense. As Routt has proven time and again, knowing his role is not his strong suit.
By choosing Houston over Pittsburgh, Routt chose to play now, and not later. With his experience, he can contribute more to the Texans defense on the outside, compared to the second year options. However, once Joseph returns, Routt could be demoted as far as fourth string based on Harris' performance at nickel. If Carmichael plays well enough, Routt could be cut again; or he will ride the pine on their playoff run.
To play in Pittsburgh, he would have had to beat out Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, who are still learning the defense from multiple positions; and Van Dyke, who played with Routt his rookie season with the Oakland Raiders.
Maybe he didn't want to play special teams.
Maybe he didn't think he could beat out his former teammate.
Maybe the Steelers were clear about their confidence in Allen and Brown at their new positions.
Maybe the Steelers even declared some confidence in Van Dyke, although the fact that they contacted Routt at all negates that possibility. However, despite Van Dyke's penalty problems, he has not been cut yet, even when roster spots have been at a premium. The Steelers must see something in him, especially if they would force a veteran of Routt's talent level, to compete with Van Dyke, for his spot.
Of course, maybe Routt was just homesick.