During the 2013 season, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen flashed some serious potential, and somewhat alleviated any wonder as to whether the franchise chose the wrong player to let walk out the door, when promising cornerback Keenan Lewis signed with New Orleans Saints.
A long and rangy corner in the Dick LeBeau mold, at 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, he was awarded a 4-year, $24.6 million contract extension last offseason. He started the season as arguably the team’s top corner, with Ike Taylor on his last legs. However, with his play at times during the 2014 campaign, one could argue a street free agent could’ve outplayed Allen.
Allen’s usage gradually dissipated as the season went on, and he was ultimately sent to the bench after the inexcusable 31-10 loss to Cleveland in which he gave up several splash plays. His season was brought to a close after a December thumb injury landed him on injured reserve. He was benched for periods in the 2013 season as well, and appears to be a player who lacks confidence at times. This move could’ve been seen coming from a mile away, and guess where Pro Football Focus ranked Allen in 2014? Dead last.
“He’s at a difficult position,” now former-defensive boss Dick LeBeau said. “Sometimes, there are ups and downs out there. I have great confidence that he’ll fight himself through this and be a very strong player.”
The team also gave tackle Marcus Gilbert a hefty extension in the offseason, and the Allen issue, coupled with the team still feeling the aftershock of the LaMarr Woodley contract, leaves Steelers Nation wondering what exactly is the team thinking when it’s writing these checks?
After such a horrid season by a player the front office viewed as a cornerstone, would it be unthinkable to cut him? If they cut him prior to the start of the new league year, it’d save the team $1.581 million against the cap but adding to it $5.4 million in dead money. The dead money total from Allen and Woodley alone would be close to $15 million, more than 10 percent of this year’s projected cap.
Odds are Allen will remain in a Steelers uniform, at least through next season. Seemingly being at the bottom of the barrel, there’s hopefully only one direction for Allen to go, and that’s up.
“I was close on a lot of plays in the course of the season,” Allen said. “There are little things here and there I can work on, but mostly the finishing. That you are that close and come up short, absolutely it’s the most frustrating. It’s something that can be fixed and something I will fix and look forward to working at this offseason.”
After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, one of the hardest parts of the 2014 season, according to Allen, was not being able to help the team on it’s march to the playoffs.
“It’s tough not being able to fight with the guys on the field,” he said. “We have such a bond you want to do everything for them and you aren’t able to. That’s the expectation, the void you want to fill as far as being able to do whatever you can for those guys. That’s what’s important to me.”
If anyone is able to be a support system for Allen after such a roller coaster of a season, it’s Ike Taylor. LeBeau benched Taylor for periods during the 2006 season as well, so Taylor knows all too well the feeling.
“He has to write his own story,” Taylor said. “He’ll have a few downs. He’ll have a lot of highs. In order for him to appreciate it, he has to go through that bump in the road. He’ll get criticized. It will make his skin thicker.”
Now in full offseason mode, one is left to wonder what the 2014 season could’ve been, if Le’Veon Bell had played in the playoff game, if Allen’s play lived up to his contract, etc. Those thoughts, coupled with the abysmal showing by the Denver Broncos last weekend, leaves one to ponder whether the Steelers could be heading to Foxborough this weekend for the AFC Championship?
Nobody knows, but what Allen knows is that he needs to get better for 2015. Chances are it could be with an entirely different supporting cast than previous seasons, with the unknown futures of Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu.
“It’s something we hate to think about, but something you understand is a part of the game we play,” Allen said. “We are such a close group in the defensive backs meeting room. We genuinely love each other. It’s more than football to us. Whether I am up or down they are there for me and that’s what makes it special.”
His elder statesman, Taylor, never lacking confidence, has all the belief in the world in Allen.
“Only the strong survive playing corner,” he said. “You’re either going to fight your way out or you’re going to go in the tank. I tell him all the time to keep fighting.”
Being out on an island covering the Dez Bryant’s and Julio Jones’s of the NFL comes with the territory of being a #1 corner in the league. No fear and a having a short-term memory are vital.
“Before he knows it, nothing will bother him,” Taylor said. “And he’ll be the man everyone is talking about. He’ll get to that point.”
Every single Steelers fan can only hope that 2015 is the year Allen finally arrives to “that point.”