On Tuesday Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis refuted a report by Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that quoted the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent as saying that the team “made a mistake” by not offering him a multi-year deal before the 2012 season.
On Wednesday Lewis talked more about his situation heading into the offseason and how he indeed wants to remain with the Steelers organization if at all possible.
“I\’m hoping they do something so I can get back,” said Lewis, via a Thursday report by Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. “They said they wanted me to come back.”
Lewis, who played this past season on a one-year restricted tender of $1.26 million, had his exit interview with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin on Tuesday, and according to Bouchette, Tomlin told the Oregon State product that he blossomed in 2012.
Lewis blossomed indeed as he recorded 71 total tackles and 23 defensed passes in his first full season as a starter. He did not have any interceptions, however, and this is one area that Tomlin reportedly told him that he and the other cornerbacks need to improve in next season.
Since the season ended several Steelers fans have knocked General Manager Kevin Colbert for not locking up Lewis long term prior to the start of the season. As it turns out, Lewis wasn\’t looking to sign a long-term deal until after this season anyways.
“I didn\’t want a contract in 2012,” Lewis said, per the Bouchette report. “I was just a nickel back. I probably would have told them to hold up on the contract anyway because I wanted to really establish myself as a starting cornerback.”
I posted on Twitter Tuesday that there was no good reason to lock up Lewis long-term prior to the start of this season as he was just a sub-package cornerback in 2011. It wasn\’t even certain that he would be the starter in 2012 opposite Ike Taylor heading into training camp. Sure, his chances were good, but he still had to earn that spot by beating out second-year cornerback Cortez Allen in training camp, which he did.
The Steelers played this perfectly, as did Lewis. The turnaround that he had this past season was fun to watch and a lot of the credit for that goes to defensive backs coach CarnellLake. Lewis said on Wednesday that Lake has helped him out tremendously and that the game has slowed down for him now.
Lewis is reportedly leaving everything up to his agent now, but told Bouchette that the Steelers will have priority because they are the team that drafted him. He added that he will not speculate what those numbers might end up being.
I posted recently that I thought an average year value of around $7 million might be the market value for Lewis and that a signing bonus of around $8 million or so on a four-year deal sounds about right. Will he take less than that to stay in Pittsburgh? Will he want to at least test free agency first before making a decision? It is hard to answer both of those questions right now.
The Steelers allowed Taylor to test the market after the 2010 season and he ended up re-signing. Safety Ryan Clark was also allowed to test free agency following the 2009 season, and he too ended up re-signing with the Steelers. Based on those two situations it would not be surprising to see Lewis test the market as well.
The one thing going against Lewis right now is that several teams might view him as a system cornerback, and with good reason. His lack of interceptions could also limit his marketability as well as he has just 1 in the 45 career regular season games that he has played in.
This might take until April to work itself all out, but it sounds like both sides want each other and that is a start. This is a business, however, and Lewis and his agent have to have an amount in their head right now. Usually those starting amounts are more than the Steelers will want to pay so it could ultimately come down to how bad Lewis wants to remain in Pittsburgh.