Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has seen a group of cornerbacks not wearing the No. 24 in just four games since he took over the reins of the Steelers in 2007.
That's an impressive run of longevity for any NFL player, let alone one of the most trying physical and mental positions in the game. Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, outside of a broken ankle suffered toward the end of the 2012 season, has been the paradigm of consistency in terms of health and fitness.
You can't beat the clock, though. Taylor's age appeared to get the better of him down the stretch last year, and any regression in ability he may show creates a significant problem for the Steelers. One, because cornerback is one of the thinner positions on the team as it prepares to enter free agency March 11. Two, because Taylor is one of the team's most expensive players. After a restructured deal came late last season, Taylor has a cap number of $11.9 million - significantly too high for the level of play witnessed from Taylor over the second half of the year.
The Steelers have two able-bodied cornerbacks along with Taylor who could be counted on to assume starting roles - William Gay and Cortez Allen. That in itself is enough to suggest Taylor won't earn his contracted price for 2014. The real question is whether the Steelers feel they can work out a new arrangement with Taylor, lowering his salary and cap charge enough to bring him back to complete for the starting position he's owned for the better part of the last decade.
A decision on Taylor should be made in the very near future, considering free agency is looming. The Steelers are in a tough spot in terms of the salary cap, and Taylor simply may be their best option in terms of teams needing three starting-caliber cornerbacks in today's pass-happy league. A reduced price is a given, but if Taylor is unwilling to play for that reduced salary - much like outside linebacker James Harrison last season - the Steelers will release him and begin in earnest to find a third cornerback in either free agency or the draft.
The latter option seems inevitable anyway, considering the price tag of veteran cornerbacks can be substantially higher than even a rookie selected in the first round. Even with the selection of a cornerback, though, it would be wiser for the team to get Taylor back at a reduced price to help hold the fort until a transition to a younger group of cornerbacks can fully begin.