Player: Brandon Boykin
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $1,542,000
2015 Season Breakdown: This one certainly figures to draw its fair share of attention. The Steelers traded for Brandon Boykin in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick after learning that their rookie second-round cornerback, Senquez Golson, who they may have pegged for grooming in the slot, would miss the season.
Boykin was well-regarded as an underrated slot cornerback in his time with the Eagles, intercepting six passes in 2013, but he struggled to find an opportunity in Pittsburgh, who signed him, seemingly, for depth purposes.
He may have missed an early window when a groin injury kept him out of early practices in Week Two, reps that Ross Cockrell took as the nickel back. Though Boykin got a couple of possessions in that game in place of Antwon Blake as an outside corner, it would be some time before he meaningfully saw the field again.
It took mounting struggles late in the season for the Steelers to finally make a change, and Boykin began rotating into the slot during the final five games of the regular season, making an interception on a deflected pass early in his first game action.
From then on, the rotation was continually tinkered with, but Boykin was ultimately locked in as the slot cornerback, logging virtually all nickel snaps over the last few weeks and into the playoffs, though he ultimately played only about a quarter of the team’s regular season snaps.
In general, he played well, though not flawlessly, missing a couple of tackles and giving up a handful of conversions third down, though these things may not be remembered through rose-colored glasses. There were also a few public comments from the coaching staff suggesting that he struggled to adjust to the Steelers’ defense and intimated that they were not as comfortable putting him out on the field given his own comfort level of the defense.
Free Agency Outlook: It is easy to dismiss the notion that Boykin and the Steelers would work out a deal that will keep him in Pittsburgh beyond the 2015 season. After all, he spent virtually three-quarters of the season, in the final year of his rookie contract before hitting the open market, sitting on the bench behind less experienced and less accomplished players.
Surely Boykin is beyond insulted by how things transpired and would never consider re-signing with the team that treated him that way. Or at least that is the prevailing narrative, including the one coming from this site, from the Steelers’ website, and just about anywhere else. And truthfully, he is more likely than not to sign elsewhere. He will undoubtedly test the market.
But I do not believe it would be a shock if he is ultimately brought back, and that partially depends on how the market plays out. He may find a market unreceptive to his desire to play outside, for example. And the truth is that by the end of the year, he was playing the role that everybody expected him to play. Maybe it took him a while to get there, but he got there.
The greater issue is where he would play, and that depends on who is making up the roster in 2016. Do they have Golson penciled into the slot? Do they want him to play outside? Will he even be ready to contribute?