With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to waive rookie cornerback Doran Grant yesterday, it would be a service to take a look at where the position stands now—or rather, where it will stand heading into the 2016 season.
The team’s most widely projected 53-man roster featured six cornerbacks making the list, those being William Gay, Cortez Allen, Antwon Blake, Brandon Boykin, Grant, and B.W. Webb, in that pecking order.
Should the roster have gone down that way, then the Steelers would have been left with four cornerbacks that were under contract through the 2016 season, including second-round rookie Senquez Golson.
Webb was still under his rookie contract because he was claimed off waivers. Additionally, Allen is only in the second season of a long-term deal, while grant and Golson were to have been in the first years of their four-year rookie deals.
It goes without saying that things did not work out as many projected. Webb was the first to miss the cut, as the Steelers replaced him as the sixth cornerback on the 53-man roster with Ross Cockrell, a second-year cornerback who was waived during the first cut down phase.
Because he was not claimed, however, Cockrell’s rookie contract expired, and the Steelers signed him to a one-year contract. So the team’s newest addition at cornerback will be a free agent in 2016.
As will Gay, Blake, and Boykin, the latter of whom was acquired via trade for a conditional fifth-round draft pick.
Blake is playing on a one-year restricted free agent tender, and is expected to begin the season playing a critical role. Currently, there is speculation that he may start. Gay is in the final year of a three-year contract that he has out-performed. While he is getting older—he will be 31 next season—he will likely want a pay raise.
Then there is Boykin, who has the highest potential, and the best resume of the group. He recorded six interceptions in 2013, a number that no Steelers cornerback has approached in this millennium. He will be difficult to resign even if he doesn’t play as much as many expect.
That leaves the Steelers, then, with just Allen and Golson, around both of whom are many questions. Allen has been benched from his starting position in each of the past two seasons, and he has continued to struggle with injuries.
Golson has the highest pedigree of all, and has a resume that boasts a 10-interception season, but he will also be coming back from a torn labrum, and the fact of the matter is that we simply haven’t seen him at all. He is an unknown, and is guaranteed to be an unknown in 2016. At least Allen can provide an answer by then.
Even if Grant clears waivers, he will not be under contract for next season, although he would be an exclusive rights free agent—as would Cockrell, I believe, with just one accrued season. That helps quantify the situation a bit more comfortably, but there’s still no question that the Steelers’ moves have left them in a very precarious position heading into next year at one of the most critical positions in the game.