Steelers re-signing William Gay fits with recent trends

Jared Wickerham

The Steelers got the band back together before the 2010 season, re-signing multiple former players to help get the team back on track after a rough 2009 year. There are some shades of that mentality in the re-signing of cornerback William Gay.

Update: William Gay's new contract with the Steelers is reported to be 3-years/$4.5 million, with a $500,000 signing bonus.

In 2010, the Steelers got the band back together.

They dipped into free agency much more than they usually did, but the guys they brought back in were mostly former Steelers players. Cornerback Bryant McFadden, linebacker Larry Foote, wide receiver Antwaan Randle El and quarterback Byron Leftwich all had at least one Super Bowl ring with the Steelers, and after a disastrous 2009 season, the team looked to get back to the championship mentality; veteran leadership.

It shouldn't be at all surprising, if not slightly ironic, the Steelers are looking to re-sign free agent cornerback William Gay.

Not surprising in the sense they've signed veteran cornerbacks with Steelers ties in the recent past. Slightly ironic because they brought McFadden back to replace Gay as the cornerback opposite Ike Taylor, and the Steelers are deeper now at cornerback than they were then.

That depth, though, is assuming 2012 starter Keenan Lewis is re-signed.

Two schools of thought on the Steelers' interest in Gay as a free agent. One, they're looking to establish depth at a position that was ravaged by injuries at the end of the season. Taylor broke his leg, and as Lewis and Cortez Allen battled nagging injuries, Curtis Brown was thrust in the starting lineup for their Week 14 game against San Diego.

The result was less than desirable, to put it mildly.

The adage is you can never have too many good cover corners, especially with the massive increase in importance of the slot receiver, and the athletic ability of today's younger tight ends. A team's nickel corner plays as much as other starters among the defense, and is starting to be considered the same way. A team must have three starting-caliber cornerbacks to compete.

Is Gay fairly considered a starting caliber corner? It's a good question. He had a rough 2012 season playing for former Steelers defensive backs coach and current Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton (who is now in the same position with Cleveland). But veteran cornerbacks are vital to any team. Would Gay have been a better option against San Diego? We'll never know, but it would be tough to imagine him giving up more third down completions than Brown did.

The other school of thought is Gay is being brought back to reprise his nickel role of years past, because the team no longer feels confident in their ability to re-sign Lewis. Maybe they never did. Maybe they're simply (and smartly) planning for the worst-case scenario, and Lewis's deal has nothing to do with Gay.

A team's nickel corner plays as much as other starters among the defense, and is starting to be considered the same way. A team must have three starting-caliber cornerbacks to compete.

It's fully possible he signs a non-guaranteed contract, and is given the opportunity to make the team in training camp. While Brown is relatively cheap ($1.2 million over the next two seasons), the comparison could be more fairly Brown vs. Gay instead of Lewis vs. Gay.

The wild card here is the veteran presence. Gay has been primarily a special teams player, a nickel back and has started, covering both inside and out, in Dick LeBeau's defense. While his price will be a bit more expensive, it isn't likely to be much more, and that difference is easily made up in the fact he can be put on the field in Week 1 without worrying about his level of experience.


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