There are only two weeks until the Steelers take the field to start their 2016 season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t time to adjust the roster before then. There is one specific need the team should address and it is not the backup quarterback position.
The preseason scouting on the Steelers is that they are very young, talented, and raw in the secondary, and that the secondary will be the clear weakness on the team, as it has been for the past two seasons as well. With those two truths in mind the Steelers set out trying to fix their defensive woes. They spent their first two draft picks this year on corner Artie Burns and on safety Sean Davis, with the expectation that one or both could contribute this year due to the porous nature of the secondary.
Since Burns missed three of the four preseason games this year because of a quad injury, that player will be Sean Davis, albeit as a slot corner to start the year and not at safety as was originally planned. Thanks to the unlucky string of injuries to Senquez Golson, who also was expected to contribute as a player in only his second year, Davis was forced to move back to corner, which he played his Senior year in college. That means the two corners starting on the outside are William Gay, who is a very underrated player, and Ross Cockrell, who is only 25.
Having a young unit isn’t a bad thing in the long term. Ideally you get quality play for years at a relatively controlled cost while the players learn their positions and form a cohesive team that will provide value for years. In the short term however, between adjusting to NFL caliber play, learning a new playbook, and learning the tendencies of new teammates young starters more often than not are a weakness that opposing players can’t wait to pick on.
With this reality in mind, and as teams are forced to cut down their rosters this week, the Steelers should look out for a veteran corner that could come in and provide reliable play to start the year so the team can bring along the young defensive backs at a pace conducive to their ability. Even if the veteran were to provide merely average but consistent play, it would be worth it for the Steelers instead of seeing a young player build experience but have that experience come at the expense of a drop off in play.
The fact that that the Steelers brought in former Steeler Keenan Lewis last week is a sign the front office has reached this conclusion as well. Unfortunately, Lewis appears to have a hip injury that is significant enough it scared off the Steelers.
Still, there should be some options for the team to pursue. Some people will point out that if a team is willing to part ways with a player that must mean there is something wrong with them. That may be true; it’s unlikely that anybody cut this week will end up being an All-Pro come February. That isn’t a bad thing though. Many players will be released due to cap concerns or the player didn’t quite fit the scheme of their original team. The Steelers don’t need a pro bowl caliber player, just a serviceable player that can provide some short term reliability in the secondary.
The ideal candidate for this position would be a veteran that doesn’t mind mentoring younger players and is willing to take a cheap deal to come to Pittsburgh. The Steelers would need to get creative with any new contracts, especially since they’re likely to try and sign David DeCastro before the regular season starts.
It may be asking a lot for a player that fits all the above criteria to suddenly enter the market. It’s highly possible that the Steelers can’t find any corners they like enough to sign or that they’d rather spend the money on the best available backup quarterback. That’s all fine, the team shouldn’t try to manufacture a fit. Rather, they should do their due diligence on all available corners and decide if any of those players could be a short term bridge that leads the franchise to their seventh Lombardi trophy.