Player: William Gay
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2015 Salary Cap Hit: $1,666,668
2015 Season Breakdown: Believe it or not, but the 2015 season was actually just the second time in William Gay’s career that he entered the offseason process intended to be a member of the starting defensive lineup. And it was the first time that he ever started 16 games.
The only other time that he was intended to be the starter was in 2009 after a Super Bowl victory and a free agent departure in the starting lineup. Gay had impressed in his second season as an injury fill-in, but it became obvious that he wasn’t yet ready for a starting role, and was demoted to sub-packages late in the year.
He proceeded to start 58 games over the span of the next five seasons, but they all ended up coming to him in roundabout ways. By 2015, there was no denying, however, that Gay was the team’s best cornerback, and he played like it—not to say that he deserved Pro Bowl consideration, but he did his part in the secondary.
Having been the recipient of fewer targets due to the tumultuous situation going on at the opposite cornerback position, Gay’s statistics may not necessarily reflect an excellent season, but he still recorded nearly 60 tackles and two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, in addition to a sack and seven passes defensed.
One facet of Gay’s body of work that doesn’t get talked about enough is his durability. Despite being relatively small for the position, he has never missed a game in his entire career, playing now in 144 straight regular season games.
His knowledge of the Steelers’ defense rivals that of anybody on the coaching staff at this point, I would imagine, which gives the team a level of versatility and communication that cannot be duplicated spontaneously.
Free Agency Outlook: Although he may be the most significant Steelers free agent that is set to hit the market, I also believe that he is the most likely of the remaining free agents not yet covered to be retained, and to be retained somewhat easily, given the history and bond shared between William Gay and the team.
Notwithstanding the fact that Gay already left via free agency once following the 2011 season, spending 2012 with the Cardinals before he was released after one season and having since returned and played the best ball of his career over the last three seasons, Gay was a selection from Mike Tomlin’s inaugural draft with this team, and I have a hard time imagining him leaving twice.
I also have a hard time imagining that the Steelers would devalue him significantly enough to result in him leaving a second time. Whether that means paying him a modest increase in his already rather modest salary that he signed three years ago, relative to his advanced age, but also his advanced status as the team’s top cornerback, I believe a deal gets done. And I don’t think Gay wants to go anywhere.