The Pittsburgh Steelers hit free agency hard last year, bringing in a handful of veteran players to earn starting roles and improve depth.
Here is a position-by-position look at the Steelers depth chart going into this year's March 10 start of free agency.
PITTSBURGH -- There are 17 defensive backs listed on the Steelers offseason roster, including seven cornerbacks. It's a good bet that some of the corners won't make it through for training camp.
Count Ike Taylor in that group. Taylor reportedly asked the Steelers if he could move to safety this year, in an attempt to extend his career another year or two, but that idea was dismissed and likely will put an end to his fine career after 12 NFL seasons. A virtual iron man earlier in his career with 174 total games played, Taylor was active for just two of the final 14 games last season and played just five overall.
Taylor started all 16 games in 2014, but missed the final four with a broken foot in 2012 after not missing a start from 2007-11. His contract is up and he likely will retire as a member of the Steelers, unless another team wants to give him a shot as a safety at a reduced rate. He doesn't appear able to be an effective cornerback any longer. During the Steelers four-game winning streak to end the season, William Gay and Brice McCain were the starting corners, while Antwon Blake came on in the nickel.
The club's best cornerback the past couple of seasons, remarkably to some, has been Gay. He clearly was the top corner last year and will start again with a team-friendly camp hit at $1.67 million this season. Gay has been the Steelers' top on-field performer and has been solid off the field as well by fighting for victims of domestic violence. He led the team with 16 pass breakups and three interceptions (tied with McCain). He will be a key member of he secondary this season as well for the Steelers.
McCain struggled mightily in 2013, but was signed to provide depth for the Steelers last year. Instead, he became a solid starter in 10 of the final 11 games and even turned in a few big plays. He's an unrestricted free agent, but would like to return. The Steelers would re-sign him, as long as he continues to be paid a minimal amount like last season ($795,000). McCain iced the win agains the Jacksonville Jaguars with a pick-six and certainly could be a valuable special teams performer and backup corner if he doesn't win a starting job.
That all depends on how well Cortez Allen bounces back from his dismal 2014. The highpoint for Allen was a five-year, $26 million contract that he signed before the season-opener. His season went steadily downhill from there. Allen's play was horrendous from the outset. He made zero plays and the sure-handed tackler even missed those. If he was close to making a play, it always went the other way. He ended the season on injured reserve, which followed a benching from the starting lineup and eventually deactivation.
Allen is scheduled to make more than $2.6 million in base salary this year, a huge raise, but that figure jumps to more than $4 million during the final three years of his contract. And there's just too much dead money there for the Steelers to cut him. So, Allen will get a chance to redeem himself this year. That doesn't mean the Steelers won't draft a corner this year. How high in the draft remains to be seen, since they haven't taken one in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997 and Ricardo Colclough in the second round in 2004.
Antwon Blake is a restricted free agent, so he likely will be re-signed at an extremely inexpensive price. He came to the Steelers in 2013 after being waved by the Jaguars, and he has been a capable special teams performer ever since. But his play in pass defense solidified last season, and he should at least be a capable backup. Despite being small in stature, Blake has shown a penchant for physical play in both the run and pass game.
B.W. Webb was claimed off waivers from the Dallas Cowboys at the end of training camp, and he was a solid special teams performer in the 10 games that he played. He will get a chance to vie for a roster spot with the other young corners at a position that has some available and needs improvement.
Kevin Fogg was signed to the Steelers practice squad in December after initially signing with the Miami Dolphins. He's in the same position as Webb, an ability to make a mark on special teams with a chance to earn playing time after that.