Think back to the 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers training camp. The team is notified they won't have the services of second round pick Senquez Golson this season due to a torn labrum. The team is now in dire straits at the cornerback position, and after seeing Doran Grant and Kevin Fogg show little of what is capable of being a regular on the defensive side of the football, the front office made a move.
That move was a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for disgruntled cornerback Brandon Boykin for a conditional draft pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Boykin was a very good player for Philadelphia, and the plans were to have him solidify the secondary for the Steelers in the coming season.
Shortly after Boykin's arrival, it became public knowledge that the conditional draft pick for Boykin would be a 4th round pick if he played more than 60-percent of the snaps. Anything less and it would be a 5th round draft pick. Most thought nothing of it at the time, but when Antwon Blake was repeatedly picked on and abused, fans were clamoring to see Boykin in action.
There was only one problem. He didn't see the field outside of special teams.
The season crawled on, and Boykin watched as a combination of Ross Cockrell and Antwon Blake were victimized time and time again. The bye week came and went, and still, no Boykin. Then, a light bulb went off in Mike Tomlin's head before the Indianapolis Colts game, and the defensive rotation started.
No longer did Boykin just watch, but he became a regular on the defensive side of the field. After just a few games, the rotation no longer involved Boykin, but was between Cockrell and Blake, as Boykin solidified his spot in the slot while William Gay took the outside. However, Boykin wasn't just seeing the field on the rare occasion when teams deployed a 3 wide receiver set, he was the second most used cornerback behind Gay.
In fact, against the Denver Broncos, Boykin played 64 of a total 74 snaps, only behind Gay who played 100-percent of the snaps. This compared to Blake's 46 and Cockrell's 28 defensive snaps. A similar story can be said after the Cincinnati Bengals Wild Card game in the AFC Playoffs.
So, to put a bow on this entire saga, Boykin went from a spectator, to one of the most used defensive weapons at the cornerback position. Certainly seems fishy, as it would be rare for Boykin to just suddenly start to play better in practice the last quarter of the season. Did the Steelers not play Boykin intentionally? Were they concerned about losing a 4th round draft pick? Personally, I don't think so, but conspiracy theorists would likely disagree.
Nonetheless, Boykin's weird season in the Steel City is over, and he becomes a free agent this offseason. Pittsburgh would be smart to see what it would cost to have his services back in 2016 and beyond, except this time without any concern of potential snap totals.