Although the transaction might not be made official until the start of the new league year, free agent cornerback William Gay has indicated on Twitter Sunday afternoon that he is returning to Pittsburgh after one season with the Arizona Cardinals. Gay left last offseason via free agency as an unrestricted free agent, but was released on Friday by the Cardinals, who needed to slash salary cap dollars for 2013.
The return of Gay to Pittsburgh is an obvious fit. He most likely only got a one-year deal for the minimum and it more than likely wasn\’t guaranteed. He adds experienced depth on the roster at the cornerback position and will be special team contributor assuming he makes the final 53 man roster.
So what does the return of Gay mean for the other cornerbacks?
Many are thinking that Gay\’s return signifies that unrestricted free agent Keenan Lewis is all but gone now. I disagree. Lewis certainly could wind up leaving for greener pastures, but I doubt that the Steelers have given up on re-signing him. General manager Kevin Colbert has said for some time now that many, if not all, of the unrestricted free agents that they wish to re-sign will be allowed to test free agency so that their market value could be established. Colbert and Omar Khan more than likely have a price in their head that they are willing to pay Lewis and they will not get in a bidding war with another team for his services. For all we know, they might already have a deal in place with Lewis. One thing is for certain, we will know within two weeks or so whether or not Lewis will be back in Pittsburgh in 2013.
Should Lewis ultimately be re-signed then Gay provides depth as possibly the fourth or fifth cornerback on the roster. Should Lewis leave via free agency then Gay will more than likely compete with Curtis Brown for the nickel cornerback position with the loser becoming the dime back. Gay has experience playing both inside and outside and the Steelers really could have used that last year down the stretch due to the injuries suffered by Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and Lewis.
What does the return of Gay mean to the younger cornerbacks on the roster? At this point you can consider Brown, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke, assuming he is tendered as an exclusive free agent, as all really being put on notice. Not like they weren\’t beforehand, but now that notice has a name and a face attached to it. None of the three are guaranteed a roster spot at this point, whether Lewis returns or not. That should set the stage for a pretty good training camp battle.
So what does the return of Gay mean as far as the draft goes? I really don\’t think that it changes a thing. For starters, I don\’t think that the Steelers had plans on drafting a cornerback in the first four rounds before Gay was brought back. Now that Gay has returned, there is no pressure to add a cornerback in the later rounds either. Could they still draft one? Sure, but I think the odds were low of them drafting one prior to Gay returning and even lower now.
Considering the price that was likely paid, Gay was a no-brainer signing. It is not the first time that a player has left for a season only to return to provide much needed depth. Larry Foote, Bryant McFadden and Antwaan Randle El all returned in 2010 after one season away with another team and the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl that season.
Don\’t make more out of Gay\’s return to Pittsburgh than what it really is. It\’s a depth signing for the cornerback position and is insurance in case Lewis ends up elsewhere.