If I would have told you a few weeks ago that linebacker Sean Spence, linebacker Terence Garvin, cornerback Antwon Blake and running back Jordan Todman would all sign free agent contracts with other teams before cornerback Brandon Boykin would, you would have laughed me right off of this site. Well, here we are in the second weekend of the new league year and that’s exactly what has happened.
As far as I can tell, Boykin, who was acquired by the Pittsburgh Steelers during last year’s training camp via a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, hasn’t even made a free agent visit and that in and of itself is very surprising if indeed true. So, why is a player such as Boykin, who Pro Football Focus regarded as one of the top 8 free agent cornerbacks this year, still unsigned? That’s a great question and I certainly don’t have the answer.
For starters, while Boykin only played 273 regular season defensive snaps with the Steelers last season, he played well in the slot when given the opportunity. Additionally, Boykin played 203 special teams snaps for the Steelers in 2015 and registered 4 tackles and a fumble recovery on that unit. Also, it’s certainly not like teams don’t have enough tape on Boykin as he played roughly 1,600 defensive snaps in his three years with the Eagles. Don’t forget, this is the same Boykin who registered 6 interceptions, 16 defensed passes and two forced fumbles in 2013.
It’s not like Boykin is old, either, as he won’t turn 26 until July.
At this point, Boykin’s market value is extremely low and probably less than $2.5 million a season. In other words, he needs to think seriously about signing a one-year deal with a team with the hopes that he can increase his market value in 2016 and test free agency again next offseason.
With cornerback Antwon Blake now out of the picture in Pittsburgh, Boykin really should really consider re-signing with the Steelers. Why? For starters, there’s a lot of uncertainty right now when it comes to the Steelers depth chart at the cornerback position. That depth chart includes a veteran in Cortez Allen, who already has one expensive foot out of town. While the team is certainly hoping that Allen can bounce back and reclaim a starting job in their defense, there’s no guarantee that he will.
In addition to Allen, young cornerback Senquez Golson has yet to play a single down in the NFL due to a shoulder injury that wiped out his rookie season. In other words, the Steelers still don’t really know what they have in their under-sized second-round draft pick. Can he play outside in the NFL, or is he destined to be slot corner like Boykin?
As for Steelers young cornerback Doran Grant, who spent most of his rookie season on the team’s practice squad, he might very well wind up moving to safety this offseason. Even if he doesn’t, he only logged one defensive snap during his rookie season.
As for William Gay and Ross Cockrell, we know who they both are. Gay can play both outside and inside while Cockrell is an outside cornerback. Where Golson winds up fitting in this year in the Steelers defense will go a long way in determining where Gay plays in 2016. As for Cockrell, he could potentially be an outside starter in 2016 depending on what ultimately happens with Allen this offseason.
Also, even if the Steelers do wind up drafting a cornerback this year, one would think it would take at least half the season for that player to see the field.
In summation, if I’m Boykin, I take a hard look at the Steelers depth chart right now. In all honesty, the amount of uncertainty that it includes could result in him being the Steelers starting sub-package corner in 2016 should he ultimately decide to re-sign. At least he has an understanding of the Steelers defense and thus can hit the ground running this year in training camp.
While I certainly understand Boykin not being happy with the playing time he received last year in Pittsburgh, he needs to put that behind him. There’s nothing that he can do or say at this point that will change what happened and he’s only hurting himself by letting people know that it bothers him. The Steelers are obviously open to him returning for at least one more season and at this stage of free agency, he should really think about doing just that. Such a decision could result in a big payoff for him next offseason in addition to him being part of a championship team this year.