Player: Antwon Blake
Experience: 3 Years
Free Agent Status: Restricted
2014 Salary Cap Hit: $570,000
2014 Season Breakdown: The Steelers added Antwon Blake to their 53-man roster at the start of the 2013 regular season for his special teams abilities after he failed to make the roster in Jacksonville, releasing rookie undrafted free agent Isaiah Green—sending him to the practice squad—in order to add the second-year cornerback.
While Blake spent his first few games on the inactive list, he quickly found himself a home as a gunner on special teams, a job that he took to immediately, and one at which he excelled with the Jaguars.
His previous organization miscast him as a safety and failed to utilize him properly, but secondary coach Carnell Lake was excited to be able to add him for his speed and coverage ability, despite the fact that he was only 5’9”.
In fact, Lake talked about him highly during the draft process when he was questioned about why the Steelers did not select a cornerback earlier than in the fifth round of the draft, citing, among others, Blake as in-house answers to the question of depth at the position.
While he only played about five or so snaps on defense in 2013, a snap at a time as an injury replacement, as the 2014 season progressed, so did Blake, in addition to his role on the defensive side of the ball.
Blake served in a few prominent stretches of games on defense for the Steelers, including during their two significant winning streaks. He helped seal a key win over the Colts in the middle of the season by intercepting Andrew Luck in the end zone.
In the season finale, he played more than half the game and helped lock up the AFC North title late in the game when he stripped the ball out of the grip of A.J. Green after he hauled in a reception, recovering the ball himself.
No doubt he had his ups and downs in coverage, but he gained confidence over the course of the season, and should be better for it in 2015. Oh, and he continued to be a strong gunner on special teams, all the while seeing increasing snaps on defense. His tackle count may not match his 2013 numbers, but that is largely due to the number of fair catches that he induced.
Free Agency Outlook: Considering the significant role in while Blake found himself by the end of the season, and the fact that he is one of the team’s most prized special teams contributors, I would figure that the Steelers may well tender him an RFA tag, worth a bit over a million and a half.
The depth at cornerback is depleted, with Cortez Allen an unknown, and Blake was tested heavily in 2014, coming out standing on his own two feet in the end. Perhaps he is not an ideal starting cornerback, but he is a valuable player on both defense and special teams.