This Monday the Steelers made a solid depth move in bringing former Steeler William Gay back in the fold with a three year deal. He left the club last offseason in free agency and was a reliable starter on a great Cardinals defense, starting 15 games for the club last season. Now all that’s left for Kevin Colbert is to sign Keenan Lewis and the Steelers just might have amassed one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL.
The Steelers simply cannot let Lewis walk in free agency at this point. As solid as Gay can be as a starter, he’s far from ideal. Gay’s always played his best football as a nickelback. Ike Taylor isn’t getting any younger at 32, and he is set to become a free agent next offseason. Cortez Allen has shown flashes of potential that could lead to his becoming a starter, but giving him Lewis’ spot has some risk involved both short and long term. If they let Lewis walk now, and Allen performs well next season they will be faced with the exact same situation they are currently navigating with Lewis. Allen will become a free agent, due for a large payday.
There has just been too much time to this point invested in Lewis. Drafted 96th overall in the 2009 draft out of Oregon, the Steelers did their due diligence in developing Lewis. Rather than rushing him onto the field and giving him little to no chance at success, they gave him three years to learn this defense and develop. The move paid off dividends. He won the job in training camp to become the starter opposite Taylor, and looked all kinds of good in that role. Then when Taylor was placed on season ending IR in week 12, the workload and pressure increased. Playing against the oppositions best receivers for the last five weeks, he more than held his own.
It is entirely possible at this point that Lewis is the best cornerback on the Steelers. To think, all this in only his first season as a starter. At 26 years old, there is plenty of good football left in Lewis. Taylor is a declining asset set to hit free agency next offseason. Lewis IS the ideal replacement. I think upgrade might even be a more adequate way to describe it.
In a defense often accused of having lost a step and being just a little over the hill, there is just no justifying letting Lewis walk. In his first year as a starter Lewis was second in the league with 23 passes defensed. If you want to split hairs, he even led the entire AFC in passes defensed. He was arguably the best corner on the Steelers for most of the season, and that same defense led the league in total yards surrendered. That same defense led the league, oddly enough, in passing yards surrendered at 185.2 yards per game. This kid is only getting better, for the Steelers sake lets hope they don’t see it happen with another team.
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