Two seasons ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers made a very modest free agency move to address the depth at cornerback by signing veteran slot cornerback Brice McCain to a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract.
At the time, the former Texan was coming off what Houston considered a down season, in his fifth overall with the team, and so they had no issue in letting him walk for the minimum compensation to another team. They made it clear that their interest in McCain had expired.
That loss was the Steelers’ gain, at least somewhat, as he was able to put together a 2014 season for Pittsburgh that he managed to parlay into a two-year, $5.5 million contract—of which, as we now know, he only saw half, playing in 14 games, starting 11, making one interception and defending 10 passes.
The Dolphins were not overly impressed with McCain’s performance, nor were they looking forward to paying him even more in 2016 than they did in 2014 for a showing that was worse than they’d hoped, which led to his release, and now the Steelers, reportedly, are among the teams interested in kicking his tires again.
And for perhaps another go-around for a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract, sure, it’s not a move that would hurt, either in terms of lessening the team’s depth nor in preventing them from exploring other options to shore up an area that even the front office has openly acknowledged as a target for improvement, through whatever means that might come.
But anybody expecting him to come in and start and settle the position down would be carrying out some very presumptuous thinking. The 5’9”, now 29-year-old cornerback would simply, at best, be competing to add depth to the roster—which is why he was originally signed in 2014.
That year, the Steelers lost Ike Taylor to injury fair early on—in the second or third game if I recall. That injury thrust William Gay into the starting lineup. At the same time, Cortez Allen was in rapid decline, and ultimately benched after initially being demoted to the nickel.
That lest McCain as the most experienced cornerback on hand, who used that experience to pick off a rookie quarterback in the shadow of his own goal line in Jacksonville, recording a 22-yard pick six that helped put him into the starting lineup two games later.
At 5’9”, the Steelers moved McCain into the slot rather than leaving him outside when they went to the nickel. That is the role that he served primarily in Houston, and where his skills best translate. While he performed adequately overall as a starter given the circumstances, his tenure in Pittsburgh has in hindsight gone overstated.
Two of his three interceptions came in the season finale, one off a pass deflected off of the intended target, the other on a blatant miscommunication in which Andy Dalton threw to the end zone for A.J. Green, who stopped his route.
If we are using that as the barometer for who should return, it was Antwon Blake who had the biggest play of that game, stripping Green of the football after a key long first down late in the game, and then recovering the fumble himself. Bottom line: sure, expressing interest in bringing McCain back is not a bad thing, but he is just a guy.