The 2011 NFL Draft will take place just two weeks from today and it looks almost certain that the free agency signing period, if there is one, will take place after the draft. During a normal offseason the signing of the bulk of the higher profile free agent players has already taken place and teams can then fill in their needs and holes on the roster on draft day. This year it looks like the process will be flip-flopped and several teams will be forced to draft blind so to speak, not knowing the status of their own free agents as well as others. The Steelers certainly fall into this area with their highest profile free agent, cornerback Ike Taylor.
Since the end of the 2010 season optimism has been pretty high that Taylor will be re-signed whenever the free agency period begins as the word is that he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and the Steelers indeed want him back. Taylor started the offseason in the bottom top 10 of possible free agent cornerbacks, but since then several ranked ahead of him have been either re-signed or tendered contracts from their 2010 team. The biggest names that have re-signed are Champ Bailey, Ronde Barber and Stanford Routt. The biggest names that have been tendered are Brandon Carr and Brent Grimes. While there still could be some surprises with the tendered players depending on how the new CBA works out, it appears on the surface that these tendered players will back with their current teams. If you were to cross Bailey, Barber, Routt, Carr and Grimes off the available free agent corner list, you are left with Nnamdi Asomugha, Johnathan Joseph, Chris Carr, Antonio Cromartie and Taylor as the top free agents available at the position. Asomugha is easily the number one on the list, but the order of the others is surely debatable.
There are several teams that will likely address the corner position somewhere in the first two rounds of the draft, but what if they fail to get the player they most covet or the player they do draft needs a year or two to develop? Some of those teams that need corner help may decide to sign a veteran free agent regardless as a one or two year fix to fill a need if they think their roster is close to making a run at a championship. Lastly, what if there is no salary cap in 2011 and free spending teams are allowed to spend at will? Could all of this combined drive up the price tag on Taylor and the others? It certainly could.
History has taught us that the higher profile cornerbacks are highly sought after in free agency and the going rate this offseason seems to be around 10 million a season for 3 years with 20 million guaranteed. Could the supply and demand coupled with a few bad drafts drive that number up around 13-14 million for 3 years with 25 million guaranteed? It certainly could in my opinion. The Steelers chief contract negotiator Omar Khan is one of, if not the best, at structuring cap friendly deals, but guaranteed money is guaranteed money and Taylor is certainly looking for his last secure pay-day. He has been great in the past at restructuring his contracts to help the Steelers accommodate other contracts in the past and now will likely expect to be rewarded for it. In addition, Taylor now gets to wait and see how the Steelers draft goes and if they are available to draft a top future corner in the earlier rounds. He indeed could be in position of holding the pen to the Steelers checkbook should the draft not go the Steelers way.
Taylor is not often mentioned in discussions of shutdown cornerbacks, but he has helped the Steelers to two Super Bowl championships and nearly a third one. That counts for something on his resume. Even though Taylor will turn 31 shortly after the draft, he has not shown any signs of slowing down and has not had a checkered injury history in addition. He continues to train with Tom Shaw down in Florida during the offseason and there is no reason to think he can\’t play at the same level he has played for at least two more years. He also is viewed as a good locker room guy and has not been a trouble maker. All of this combined makes him an acceptable risk as a free agent as teams know what they are getting with him.
This morning Ed Bouchette wrote that the Texans could make a run at Taylor if free agency ever arrives. Bouchette also noted that Houston is very close to his home town of New Orleans. If indeed the interest is true, you have to think a few other teams are interested as well. Let\’s face it, who would you go after if you were a GM of a team with a corner need once Asomugha is signed? Joseph in my opinion is hugely over-rated and Cromartie is a train wreck waiting to happen. Taylor is the best of the rest available after Asomugha in my opinion and the Steelers indeed might not be able to compete should teams get into a bidding war over him. The Steelers certainly need Taylor back for at least one more season, but if the price tag climbs because of the unique post draft free agency period this offseason and Ike refuses to give a home team discount, he could indeed be in another uniform if the 2011 season takes place. Let\’s hope not.