The dust has settled a bit from a crazy start to the free agency period, in which cornerback Keenan Lewis, and several other Steelers found new teams, while the team added a bunch of other new players.
Looking at those transactions without the rush of the news hitting the mainstream, a few things become fairly clear. The decision to let Lewis test the market, and allowing another team to set that value on him, got exactly what the Steelers thought it would; an increased dollar amount from Lewis's real value.
Lack of Plays
This is obvious but can't be said enough; Cortez Allen forced five turnovers in the team's last two games. Five. At what point in Lewis's one year (ONE year) of starting did he even sniff that? It's not even close to rarely. The issue isn't that he cannot, it's that his one career interception shows he doesn't, and that stat is highlighted even more by his 23 passes defensed this past year.
Is Lewis Even The Second-Best Cornerback on the Steelers?
More than anything, though, Allen showed in his final two games he can play the position as well as Lewis. He brings an element to that position Lewis has not shown. That being said, was it even a sure thing Lewis would start over Allen next year? They weren't going to sit Ike Taylor; contrary to the public scrutiny Taylor brings upon himself, he played outstanding football from Week 7 to his season-ending injury in Week 13.
Are you crying over a cornerback trio of Taylor/Allen Gay instead of Taylor/Lewis/Allen + $3.5 million (Lewis's salary with New Orleans minus Gay's salary with Pittsburgh)? I think it's fair to say most reasonably minded and knowledgeable fans would rather have Lewis over Gay, all things being equal. But the few extra million Lewis eventually would cost cuts into depth elsewhere. And perhaps the cornerback position would be stronger with Lewis, decisions on positions are not made in a vacuum. It's still a position that can compete in the NFL, and isn't detrimental to other positions on the field that needed to be addressed via free agency (i.e. tight end, a spot that had one healthy player, second-year David Paulson, heading into the off-season).
Getting Production on the Cheap
The Steelers got sort of stuck the last few years, keeping a core group of players together because they were winning games in bunches. That kept some of the younger players, like Lewis and Jason Worilds, on the bench. Lewis faced unrestricted free agency in 2013, and Worilds comes due in 2014. Should Worilds end up leaving after starting in 2013, he will have only had one year of starting experience after three years as a highly drafted back-up. There's something to be said about the fact they'll get Allen for two years as a starter for little pay. Cheap and productive starters are the keys to championship teams.
Finding Keenan Lewis in the Draft
Lewis is a good player, I wish him nothing but the best. Where the Steelers are in terms of their secondary, he's proved not to have the overall skill as Taylor, the savvy of Ryan Clark or the freakish natural ability as Troy Polamalu. How hard is he to replace in the draft? They took Allen a year and a round later, and they found arguably the better player in a year less in the league. Why could the Steelers not find an outstanding corner in this draft, and groom him to play when Taylor is released/retired? Totally possible. Probable, even.