If Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake has any vision at all, he could see what's in front of him. After a season of waiting until injury and lack of production took their respective tolls on the Steelers' cornerback depth chart, he heads into restricted free agency after accumulated a good amount of film to show for his skills.
He's happy for that opportunity, as he told Tribune Review reporter Chris Adamski, but he doesn't seem to feel like he's going anywhere.
"I was able to come in and prove some things and show my worth a little bit to the team," he said. "I definitely feel like this is my home now."
Blake is a restricted free agent, meaning the Steelers have the opportunity to give Blake a one-year contract for a certain amount, and depending on that amount, either receive the opportunity to match any deal he may be given by another team, or receive draft pick compensation in his departure.
Owner of what's fairly labeled the best defensive play of the 2014 season for the Steelers, Blake stripped Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green of the ball deep in Pittsburgh territory, helping seal a Week 17 win and with it, take the AFC North championship. While the year didn't end well, it was easily the highlight of Blake's pro career.
Blake, an undrafted free agent in 2012, is likely to receive the lowest tender level in RFA, if he even gets that from the team. In 2014, it was a one-year contract worth $1.323 million. Blake made $570,000 in 2014. It's unlikely he'd receive another offer for more than $1.323 million, so the Steelers appear likely to take the same route they did with linebacker Sylvester Stevenson two years ago. They'll elect to not give him a tender offer, and instead, look to sign him for less in free agency.
The third-year cornerback has some leverage; the Steelers don't have a ton of cap space, nor do they have much depth at his position. It's expected the team addresses the position early in the 2015 NFL Draft, but that was also expected last season, when they only selected Arizona's Shaquille Richardson - he didn't make the team out of training camp and is still a free agent. Blake fought through Richardson along with other young undrafted corners to get on the field when Ike Taylor was injured and Cortez Allen fell apart, and he could represent the team's nickel corner in 2015 if the Steelers elect to not sign unrestricted free agent Brice McCain.
This kind of battle is nothing to which Blake is not accustomed. He's battled for viability in all three seasons as a pro, and entering his fourth, he actually has some experience to back up his incredible drive.
"I’m a grinder, so I’m going to be grinding regardless," Blake said. "I’m gonna be back home working out everyday and just working on every little thing, just watching film and trying to do everything I can to get better."
The tender levels for restricted free agency in 2014, as highlighted by SB Nation Bengals site Cincy Jungle. Keep in mind these figures reflect the dollar amount from 2014, and won't be the same this year, but the figures won't be finalized likely until March.
Right of First Refusal Only. One-year Player Contract with Paragraph 5 salary of at least $1.323 million. No compensation is applied to the original team if another team signs this player to an offer sheet. This is usually applied with players that entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent;
Right of First Refusal and Draft Selection at Player’s Original Draft Round: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $1.431 million for right of first refusal and original draft round compensation. If the restricted free agent entered the league in the sixth round of the NFL draft, the original team receives a six in the next NFL draft from the new team.
Right of First Refusal, One Second Round Draft Selection: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $2.187 million for right of first refusal and second draft round compensation. No matter how the restricted free agent entered the NFL, the original team receives a second-round pick from the new team if said new team signs the player to an offer sheet that the original team isn't willing to match.
Right of First Refusal, One First Round Draft Selection: One-year Player Contract with a Paragraph 5 Salary of at least $3.113 million for right of first refusal and first draft round compensation. No matter how the restricted free agent entered the NFL, the original team receives a first-round pick from the new team if said new team signs the player to an offer sheet that the original team isn't willing to match.