The Pittsburgh Steelers, and NFL for that matter, have officially hit the offseason. With a month before contracts officially expire, and the new league year begins, the Steelers will need to start game planning their future.
In this series we will look at every position group of the Pittsburgh Steelers and what the team will do with the players that were on the 2021 roster, and how they should rebuild the spots heading into the 2022 season!
Today we dive in on a position group which is in need of a face lift. The Steelers cornerbacks have been an unstable position in recent years, and its time the organization to lock some of their own free agents and players outside of the organization down to round out their roster. But who do they keep and who do they go after? All of that and more below.
The 2021 Roster
Joe Haden (UFA)
Ahkello Witherspoon (UFA)
Cam Sutton (1-Year $5.2 Million)
James Pierre (1-Year $898K)
Justin Layne (1-Year $1.19 Million)
Arthur Maulet (UFA)
The 2021 season marked the departures of starting cornerbacks Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton. With the loss the Steelers tried to replace them with Cameron Sutton, who was already on the roster, and Arthur Maulet was the man primed to take the slot corner roll once held by Hilton. Things changed quickly for the Steelers’ corners. With Sutton struggling playing on the outside, the team turned to late training camp competition and traded for Ahkello Witherspoon to step into the starting lineup. Witherspoon made the most of his audition, leading the team in interceptions throughout the 2021 season. In just a few short weeks towards the end of the season, Witherspoon went from being a player who was a cut candidate to someone the Steelers really can’t afford to lose this offseason.
Joe Haden was tasked at lining up at his typical outside corner position once again for the Steelers in 2021, and the results varied. Age and injury are certainly starting to creep up on one of the best corners the game has seen in the 20th century. Despite this, Haden still had a very cerebral and productive season in 2021. There were definitely moments of struggle, but there are ways to use Haden to his strengths and keep him in the league for years to come. You still would have wished the position, as a entire unit, would have performed better this past season, so some changes could be on the horizon.
Should they look to add a player
This is another position where I think the Steelers should look into bringing in a veteran with the salary cap space they have available. I think they should also consider drafting a cornerback somewhere in this draft. The 2022 NFL Draft crop of cornerbacks is one of, if not the, strongest position group in this year‘s draft. I sense the Steelers are sitting on such a salary cap surplus we could anticipate one big-name addition to come on the team this offseason. I think that addition comes here at corner and one of the names that keeps getting stuck in my mind is former New England Patriots cornerback, JC Jackson.
While Jackson isn’t the best scheme fit, his talent and familiarity with Brian Flores might be the perfect addition for the Steelers locker room. A signing like this would add another pillar to the Steelers talented defense and pose another significant challenge to opposing offenses for seasons to come. While it may not end up being Jackson as the free agent signing, I am predicting the Steelers looking to spend money at this position. The defense must get better at cornerback, and they must do it right here in 2022.
How should the group look in 2022
This is honestly a brutal question, in my opinion. It all comes down to what you think they should do with Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon. It is very unlikely the Steelers keep both players, but I think there could be space for both of them yet. If Haden is ready to transition to the slot corner roll, and Witherspoon sticking outside being paired with that free agent signing I talked about above, might be the perfect situation for the Steelers heading into next season. If not, I still think the Steelers need to bring in a number of new names to this group, and on contracts which will keep them together for a few years into the future. Think of all the flops the Steelers have had at this position group over the years, and those types of moves are ones the team cannot afford to make this offseason.
This team has to stop being cheap at this position and truly commit to making it better. The options are available this offseason, and there are some good options still on their own roster which they may be able to salvage. Doing nothing simply is not an option, and the Steelers will have a facelift and a more concrete future at cornerback moving forward, starting with this offseason.
But what do you think? What should the Steelers cornerback position look like at the start of the 2022 season? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Check out the other position previews below: