When Keenan Lewis cashes in this off-season, he will owe Richard Sherman dinner.
Sherman, one of the top young corners in the NFL from the Seattle Seahawks, joined NFL Network's Total Access this past Friday to discuss the future of his team and the release of Charles Woodson, among other topics. He was asked for his opinion on who the other great cornerbacks were in the league right now. Sherman picked Darrelle Revis as the best when healthy. After Revis, Sherman rattled off a list which included Charles Tillman, Antonio Cromartie and Tim Jennings. However, the last name was a bit surprising, especially to those not familiar with the Steelers organization, considering his own club's depth chart didn't even recognize him as the best cornerback on his team.
Sherman believes Lewis is one of the best corners in the league, but he does acknowledge Lewis' game is not perfect.
"Keenan Lewis from Pittsburgh doesn't get a lot of respect, because he doesn't get a lot of picks."
Lewis finished second to Sherman in passes defended in 2012, but had no interceptions. Steelers nickel-back Cortez Allen even managed to pick off a couple passes in the final few games, filling in for an injured Ike Taylor. Lewis could blame his lack of takeaways on his roles in defensive schemes, however his technique and awareness more than compensate as his play has drawn attention from peers outside the organization like Sherman.
While Sherman probably only meant to verbally pat Lewis on the back for a job well done, he may have damaged any chance Pittsburgh had of luring Lewis back at an affordable rate. The team is already trying to figure out how to squeeze a $35-40 million deal onto the ledger and under the salary cap; now other team's may be willing to pay a bit more as they learn more and more about Lewis.
The introduction of a salary floor, or minimum spending level, in 2013 will cause some teams to over-spend on short term deals or front-load long term contracts to win the favor of free-agents while keeping their roster in cap compliance.
Lewis remains confident the Steelers will find a way to bring him back, after giving positive feedback from his end-of-year meeting. The Steelers will hope Lewis is willing to give a discount to remain in Pittsburgh, but they will wait until Lewis has had a chance to test free-agent waters before deciding if he is affordable or not.
Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Lewis continues to maintain his humility. On Saturday morning, Lewis posted the following response to his Facebook page:
S/O to my Hommie Richard Sherman for showing love. However, I give u props to last year you was the best in the business at the position, setting the blueprint. We young hungry corners who on the mission to take what's our.
Hopefully, Lewis is hungry to set a new blueprint as a continuing member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
If Lewis receives offers from other teams which the Steelers cannot compete with, Sherman should seek his commission.