Cornerback Brice McCain has been in the league since he was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2009. Though he spent just one season, 2014, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, fans have looked back nostalgically on the Year of Brice. When McCain left the Steelers to sign a two-year contract with the Miami Dolphins, the team's secondary lost a talented player who was a strong contributor to the Steelers defense after injuries to both Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen.
Now, the Dolphins have decided they cannot afford to retain the services of McCain for the second year of his $5.5 million contract. In 11 games with the Dolphins, McCain had 39 tackles, ten passes defensed, and one interception. this one-handed beauty in September that left Steelers fans regretting his departure from the squad:
The departure of McCain and the retirement of Jason Worilds left the Steelers squad reliant on Antwon Blake and other inexperienced players. Throughout the season, fans bemoaned the state of the secondary, often wondering if the Steelers should have done more to retain McCain. Now, the Steelers are expected to receive a compensatory pick in the seventh round for the loss of McCain to free agency last offseason.
Outside of the one-handed interception, McCain did not have a particularly astounding year with the Dolphins. Part of that could be due to dysfunction within the Dolphins organization, which fired head coach Joe Philbin at the beginning of October. Still, McCain did not perform consistently enough with the Dolphins to keep his starting spot opposite Brett Grimes during the 2015 season.
The Steelers might take a look at McCain, but they should be in a better position going into the 2016 season. Here are a few reasons acquiring McCain, even at a discount in the wake of his release, is not a good idea:
1. Senquez Golson
Second-round draft pick Senquez Golson should be healthy and ready to show why he attracted the interest of the Steelers. Golson is healthy now after spending the off season studying up. He could become an impact player in the secondary.
2. Wacky personnel choices
Though the Steelers did not give him much playing time, cornerback Brandon Boykin, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, should have been an upgrade over McCain. He saw more playing time than the injured Golson (that's not saying much. Golson played in exactly zero games), but was woefully underutilized, even though Antwon Blake and other members of the secondary often played abysmal football. Who knows what the team would have done with McCain.
3. Other Talent
The Steelers seem heavily invested in Ross Cockrell, who drew the interest of Mike Tomlin and impressed defensive coordinator Keith Butler when he eagerly went up against Antonio Brown in practice, according to PennLive.com. Given the amount of playing time that Cockrell saw, and the enthusiasm of his coach and coordinator, the team likely sees him continuing his prominent role next season.
On-field personnel are only a cog in the machine. Position coaches and coordinators also play a key role in developing talent and ensuring the success of the team. Defensive backs coach Carnell Lake has faced the challenges associated with rebuilding a position group, but it is time to ask whether he is the weak link of the Steelers secondary. Could McCain thrive under a phenomenal defensive backs coach? As Mike Munchak, the Steelers offensive line coach, has proven, a good coach can develop raw talent and help veteran players reach new levels of excellence.
5. The Draft
The 2016 draft class is fraught with talented defensive backs. If the Steelers use a first or second round draft pick to add depth to their secondary, McCain would be redundant. On the other hand, if they plan to acquire help for the secondary through veteran NFL talent, there could end up being better options than McCain.
6. The Pass Rush
Bud Dupree was a welcome addition to the Steelers squad and a wise use of a first-round draft pick in 2015. The team might need to make more investments in their front seven, however. Even with Dupree and other talented players on the roster, the Steelers pass rush was abysmal. Without a decent pass rush, even a super-talented, perfectly coached secondary would struggle.
The Steelers gave up an average of 271.9 passing yards per game, third worst in the entire league. Though it is an interesting bit of news that McCain has been released by the Dolphins, he is not the solution to the Steelers secondary woes.