Age, Uncertainty Make William Gay’s 2016 Free Agency Case An Interesting One

Shortly after the conclusion of the 2015 regular season, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay will turn 31. He will also be without a contract the following offseason if everything stands as it is currently. What exactly does that mean?

Naturally, the 2015 season will have a tremendous amount to do with what exactly that means, and this is also making the assumption that Gay and the Steelers do not work out some type of modest extension over the course of the next few months.

Since re-signing with the Steelers in 2013, Gay has been the team’s best cornerback. I believe that is a fair evaluation that should not cause much controversy. He is tied with Cortez Allen for the most interceptions during that duration with four, but all four of Gay’s interceptions were returned for touchdowns. He also added two forced fumbles during that time.

In spite of the fact that he has not been a part of the starting lineup on opening day in either of the past two seasons with the Steelers—in fact, the only time he began a season as a starter for the Steelers was in 2009, and he was demoted toward the end of the year—Gay has nevertheless started 24 games in that span.

Much of it has even been spent as the team’s top corner, and, by and large, he has held up under the added pressure, although, admittedly, he is certainly not ideally suited for that role.

And that is precisely what makes his future so interesting, because while his endless versatility makes him highly valuable, it’s very difficult to predict where things might stand even a year from now.

Changes are, Allen will have his opportunity to prove whether or not he can be a starting cornerback this season. That will have a major impact on Gay’s future. So too will the two new quality draft prospects at the position, Senquez Golson and Doran Grant.

Should either of those prove capable of earning a starting job by next season, given their coveted ball skills, might Gay find himself back in the slot a year from now? Essentially, if everybody achieves their most reasonable best-case scenario, where might he stand by this time in 2016?

Perhaps, in that event, he could be headed for a Deshea Townsend-like career, in which his playing time has sharply declined, but he is always prepared to step in, as he did in replacing Gay in the starting lineup in 2009.

On the other hand, what if he is still the team’s best cornerback after the 2015 season? It would then be a given that he has to be re-signed. But what type of contract would he get? While he may technically be the team’s number one cornerback, you certainly wouldn’t be him top corner money. Plus, at the age of 31, at such a demanding position, one has to wonder how much tread is left on the tires.

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