End-of-season player exit meetings are not something that we are often privy to as outsiders of the football world. Generally, we only get a glimpse into that world when a player is asked by a reporter how the meeting went, if the player is willing to discuss it.
Still, it’s not generally a hard concept to grasp, and we have a pretty good feel by now of how Mike Tomlin and his staff likes to operate, and we see all the game film, so it’s not an overly difficult project to simulate. If we were to administer the end-of-season player exit meetings, it might go something like this.
Player: William Gay
Experience: 8 Years
I really don’t even want to imagine what the Steelers’ past two seasons would have looked like were it not for William Gay re-signing with the team in 2013. The front office let him walk, playing in Arizona in 2012, only to be released after one season, in part because he hit contract escalators for playing time.
It’s probably a good thing that he didn’t have any playing time escalators in his contract with the Steelers, because he has had to play a substantially more significant role than they envisioned when re-signing him, hoping that he could cement himself as the nickel back, allowing Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen to blossom on the outside.
But Gay—who has played in more games consecutively than any other active cornerback—was not allowed to active embrace that role as the nickel back, either in 2013, or last season, after Taylor went down in the third game of the season.
Gay entered the starting lineup from there on out and was clearly the top cornerback for the duration of the season following Allen’s struggles and subsequent loss of confidence in his own abilities.
Gay’s strength is his mind. It’s always been his greatest asset on the field, but it really came to light this past season as it helped translate into a team-record three interceptions returned for a touchdown in a single season. These were plays that he was able to make by studying the tendencies of the opposing team.
With Gay as the team’s top target, opposing offenses did not shy away from his side of the field. He fielded the sixth-most targets in the league, according to Pro Football Focus, while also giving up the sixth-most receptions, for the third-most yards. His 5.2 snaps in coverage per target was among the highest ratios in the league.
Yet despite seeing so much action, it wouldn’t be fair to suggest that Gay didn’t perform well overall, with a couple of his ‘worst’ plays, in hindsight, really not being so bad—he had good position in Buffalo; the safety misplayed the long ball in Tennessee.
Of course, you don’t go into a season expecting Gay to be your top cornerback. That isn’t fair to the player. But the fact that he is even able to do so just goes to show what a tremendous asset he has been. He would be the perfect nickel back, if only the Steelers were able to allow him to play there.