The problem with Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is sometimes you just can't see him.
There have been times he has shadowed an opponent's best receiver to the point of invisibility, only to take down targets like a pass assassin Other times, he just disappears, never to re-materialize.
Taylor was never meant to be a franchise cornerstone, and few people envisioned a long career for him in Pittsburgh. Of course the team believed he had potential to contribute to their defense; but with other men like Ricardo Colclough and Hank Poteat coming and going each year, the bar of hope wasn't held very high for Taylor, either.
Taylor did get a chance to start early in his career, but eventually wound up back on the bench. Few players come back from such demotion. In fact, such demotion usually foreshadows a career transition. Before long, Taylor took back his starting job and never looked back. He has been a staple of the Steelers defense ever since.
The team tried several times to find young bookends to compliment Taylor, but never found a player of equal stature. Instead, the team made do with serviceable-but-not-great talents like Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend. Taylor would usually be assigned an opponent's best receiver because he had the agility, the physicality and the size to match up with anyone, a well-balanced skill-set his battery mates did not possess.
Fast forward to 2014, and young Cortez Allen has developed a striking resemblance to a younger Taylor; but it may be too late as some have grown tired of the counterproductive version of Taylor's vanishing act, and have begun insinuating the team should make him disappear for good - in the blasphemous name of the NFL salary cap.
Just based on salary cap hit alone, Taylor becomes an obvious choice for cap casualty, especially when savings are a priority and the secondary is no longer considered the best in the league.
Breaking down the contracts of the CBs makes the release of Taylor an even more attractive option as the team would save over half of his $11+ million cap hit.
The Steelers allowed Keenan Lewis to leave for New Orleans in the off-season because they believed Allen was the corner they were looking for. Perhaps he is and will be, but injury prevented him from assuming the starting job by default. After spending time on the bench, like Taylor did earlier in his career, Allen eventually made his way back on the field. Now he can be seen taking the outside spot opposite of Taylor.
As the team waited for Allen to heal and get up to speed, William Gay held down the second starting spot with relative success. However, just because a player is capable of playing a position doesn't always mean he is the best player to play it.
The same could be said about Allen, Curtis Brown or the other young players on the roster. While saving cap money in a tight year is always a good thing, can the team really afford to gamble on releasing Taylor's veteran experience?
If the Steelers feel they truly can, they would save his $7 million base salary against his cap hit; but the secondary would have to be able to exist without Taylor, Ryan Clark and possibly Troy Polamalu.
Once the Steelers have lumped Taylor's years of experience, comfort with the system and his tenure with the team on one side of the scales, it may still not be enough to balance out his sizable income for 2014. The team has the right to request renegotiation of his deal to a paycut, but the player is in no way obligated to budge an inch.
Because Taylor will be entering the final year of his contract, restructuring for cap space is impossible with no future years to prorate restructured money to. The team could offer him some sort of extension to facilitate a restructure, but considering his age, expectations would remain much lower than estimated values.
This example outlines a one-year extension with a base salary equal to his 2014 figure, but with no signing bonus. With the extra year in place, the team could restructure $6 million of his salary into a bonus, prorating half ($3 million) to 2015's cap hit. Going this route, the 35 year old Taylor would have a cap hit cheaper than 2014, but the team would find itself in a more difficult position as Allen will be an unrestricted free-agent and Gay will be 30.
Truth be told, the Steelers are not likely to offer him an extension. Saving $3 million in 2014 is not as important as saving $3 million in 2015, when players like Allen, Maurkice Pouncey and Cameron Heyward see their own contracts expire. Weighed against this option, the team would rather save $7 million in 2014 than create a $10 million cap hit the following year.
Taylor will not be a Steeler in 2015.
With extensions off the table, releasing Taylor is the only way to save any significant cap money. Unfortunately, the team has yet to prove it is ready for him to pass the torch, making a 2014 return a little more attractive.
Taylor is unlikely to post a stat line worthy of a $7 million salary in 2014, although quality of defensive back play is not determined solely by stats. Even at $7 million, Taylor will not be the highest paid CB in the NFL. He has been durable throughout most of his career, and his incessant workout schedule has slowed time's regression. Many may feel he would be overpaid, but the team would be getting its money's worth by keeping their veteran corner for one more season.
This series will leave Taylor's contract untouched, much like we did with Woodley's numbers in our outside linebacker exploration. Taylor will not be untouchable, but the team would have to strike gold either in the draft or free-agency to even begin to believe their CB group would be improved without Taylor.
Not to mention, as our positional explorations near their end, the team is already $7+ million below the projected 2014 salary cap of $126.3 million, without touching Woodley or Taylor, yet adding players like Ziggy Hood, Jason Worilds and others. Draft picks and futures players will only affect total cap numbers for pennies on the dollar due to the rules of displacement.
In the end, any decision on Taylor's future will be made based on the team's confidence in their ability to live without him; not solely on his seemingly outrageous cap hit.
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