For much of the offseason, it was assumed that, at some point before the start of the regular season, the Pittsburgh Steelers would award a couple of young players with lucrative contract extensions, as they did last summer with key pieces of their offensive line and one particularly maligned cornerback.
More recently, we’ve heard from the local beat writers that that may not be the case after all, and that perhaps only defensive end Cameron Heyward, who is currently playing under his rookie contract’s team fifth-year option with a high-dollar value, will see a contract extension amongst those who are due for one.
Should that be the case, it will certainly create an interesting spring next year with several key starters set to become free agents, including cornerback William Gay, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract that he signed in the 2013 offseason to return to Pittsburgh, the team that drafted him.
The ninth-year veteran has spent seven years with the Steelers, spending one year in Arizona, during which he became a starter and recorded two interceptions in addition to forcing three fumbles. He was cut after the 2012 season and has been back in Pittsburgh since.
It’s hard to imagine, really, how badly the Steelers’ secondary might have been without him the past two years. Though he did not begin either year as a starting cornerback, he has ended up starting 24 of 32 games anyway, with significant roles in the others in the slot.
In 2015, he is projected in the starting lineup for only the second time in his Steelers career, the other coming way back in 2009, his third year after a successful 2008 campaign that concluded with the franchise’s record sixth Super Bowl victory.
During the past two seasons, Gay leads the team with four interceptions, all four of them having been returned for touchdowns. He has also accounted for two forced fumbles, inducing a total of six turnovers since his return to Pittsburgh.
For the duration of his career, one of the former fifth-round pick’s greatest abilities has been his availability. He has not missed a game in his entire eight-year career, totaling 128 games, with 76 starts—54 over the past four years.
But Gay is 30 years old this season. Although the Steelers currently have nobody else proven at the cornerback position—he likely would not be a surefire starter were that the case—there is no urgency on the team’s part to get him under contract past the 2015 season.
Part of that is because they have just drafted two cornerbacks in the first four rounds, and, naturally, they would like to get a glimpse at their development before making other decisions in the secondary.
When Gay was re-signed, it was as a backup. Would Gay be looking for starter money if he re-signed this year? Perhaps not, given his affection for the city and for the team, even if he did leave once. But it seems both sides feel it is an issue that can be resolved after the season is over.