It's been a week or so since writing about one of the many Pittsburgh Steelers players who are free agents in 2011. Let's get back to it with a discussion about arguably the most high-profile and important free agent in the crop -- cornerback Ike Taylor.
2010 Salary: $3.75 million
The back story: There's been plenty of conversation about Taylor's situation and future here on BTSC the past few weeks, so I'll try to keep things relatively brief. But the bottom line is it doesn't look overly likely that Taylor will be back in Pittsburgh for 2011 and beyond. Why? Well, In yesterday's six pack, I mentioned that the Steelers decided to not use the Transition Tag on Ike Taylor prior to February 25th deadline. Consequently, the Steelers no longer have exclusive rights to Taylor in free agency, whenever that may occur in the near or intermediate future.
That wouldn't necessarily lead me to say that the chances of re-signing him are unlikely. What concerns me though is the voices in his ear reminding him that he's one of the NFL's best cornerbacks, and that it's about time he started being treated (read: paid) like one. That begins and ends with his agent Joel Segal, who not long ago negotiated a six-year, $54 million contract for CB DeAngelo Hall with the Washington Redskins in the wake of Hall being bounced out of Oakland less than a year into his $70m deal with the Raiders.
Of course, it's par for the course for an agent to try to broker the best deals possible for his clients -- the bigger the contract, the higher the commission. What we haven't heard from Taylor though -- at least not to my knowledge -- is that he'd like to be back in Pittsburgh. We've heard that from LaMarr Woodley, who in my estimation was also in line for a massive contract on the open market had he gotten there. In fact, Taylor's even said that 'this is a good time for him to be a free agent.' I take that as him meaning he's going to chase the dollars rather than accept slightly less to remain with the team that drafted him out of Louisiana Lafayette in the 4th round of the 2003 Draft. Back in '06, Taylor publicly stated his interest to remain in Pittsburgh. Again, I could have easily missed it, but I haven't heard similar comments this go around.
That's conjecture on my part, no doubt. But how could you blame Taylor if that were indeed his position heading into free agency? I mean, some CB named Stanford Routt just inked a three-year $31.5 million deal with the Raiders, $20m of which is guaranteed. Stanford who? Taylor meanwhile made only slightly more than that over the past five years ($22.5m).
Also quoted in John Harris' Trib article is Dave-Te' Thomas, the director of operations for Scouting Services Inc., a company that apparently works closely with all but five NFL teams. Here's what Thomas had to say about Taylor and what the interest level will be for him on the open market:
"I think the front office has taken him for granted and thinks it can get a hometown discount," said Dave-Te' Thomas, the director of operations for Scouting Services Inc., a company used by 27 of the NFL's 32 teams. "Let Taylor walk, and watch the (New York) Giants, (Houston) Texans, Carolina (Panthers) and New Orleans (Saints) get in a bidding war for him."
Thomas, who also is the league's official biographer and authors the NFL Draft Report, introduced Taylor to scouts coming out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Thomas' studies of every team and his assessment of Taylor's game and its relation to the Steelers tells him the franchise made a mistake when it permitted Taylor to become a free agent.
What I'd Do: I'd love to see Taylor back in the black and gold for the remainder of his career, but I don't think that's happening. I do though think that there's a way to retain him for the next few seasons. I've heard you all discuss whether the Steelers are in a window of opportunity to realistically make another run or two back to the Super Bowl. My take? Hell yes we are. I wrote time and time again back during the '08 SB run that what was so exciting was that the Steelers were not really positioned for a deep run that year..Not on paper at least. I believed their peak window for dominance would be 2010-2012 when Roethlisberger had really matured as a QB, the defense still had the lion's share of its dominant veteran pieces, and the offense had a few years to improve its offensive line and add weapons to compliment Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Rashard Mendenhall.
These next two years could be special for the Steelers. Without Ike Taylor though, it will be a significantly tougher challenge. LaMarr Woodley is a remarkable talent, but I'd be far more confident in some unproven youngster(s) finding a way to replace a decent chunk of Woodley's production than I would be in replacing Taylor in '11.
As important as I think it is to have Taylor back in '11 and '12 given the specific state of the Steelers secondary, I still wouldn't consider over-extending to retain him in a high stakes bidding war with teams willing to offer a 5-6 year deal in the $50-$60m range. What I would do though is offer a short-term but high figure deal that pays Taylor in line with the game's best CBs. Something in the, say, 3-year $33m range, structured in a way that guarantees Taylor loads of money in the first two years but also allows the Steelers to cut Taylor after '12 without incurring a significant financial loss. Because Taylor's so dang durable, I'd probably even prefer a 2-year deal in the high-20s, with as much as 75-80 percent of it guaranteed.
One might wonder why Taylor would consider signing a short-term deal at the age of 30? Well, he may not. But Champ Bailey, who will turn 33 this july, did just sign a four-year $43 million deal that includes $22 million in guaranteed money. Taylor is famous for his legendary offseason conditioning programs, so it's not unreasonable to think that he'll continue to play at a high level and remain durable for another six years. That means he could conceivably ink another hefty contract like Bailey in a few short years after helping the Steelers win a third Super Bowl championship since entering the league.