The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the optimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Will cornerback William Gay be able to continue to perform at the level he has since returning to Pittsburgh?
As most of those who read this site will no doubt be fully away, cornerback William Gay spent much of his first tenure with the Steelers between 2007 and 2011 as the whipping boy of Steelers Nation, the scapegoat for most of what had ailed the team.
He did not play much as a rookie, but played well as an injury fill-in during the 2008 championship season. That prompted the Steelers to feel comfortable moving him into the starting lineup in 2009 after some free agency shuffling, which proved to be a premature move.
He was demoted from the starting lineup by the end of the season and never quite lived it down in the minds of many fans before he departed to Arizona in free agency. That the Steelers were willing to let him go as easily as they had may suggest a not too dissimilar notion.
But since he has returned over the course of the past three seasons, he has played some of the best football of his career, starting 40 of 48 games in that span of time, with the others serving as the nickel back.
He has recorded 190 tackles in that span to go along with two sacks, two forced fumbles, 28 passes defensed, and six interceptions, with five returned for touchdowns. He has for most of that time been the team’s top cornerback.
And now at age 31 and inked to a new three-year contract, he will likely be asked to continue to do the same. Given that his greatest strength lies not in his arms and legs but tucked inside his head, he stands good chance of continuing to perform as he has in recent years, which may not be All-Pro level, but is proficient.
Even on the wrong side of 30, Gay has still shown that he has enough speed to get the job done, and his knowledge not only of the defense but of what his opponent intends to do due to exhaustive film study continues to give him the edge more often than not.
There are no indications that we should expect a precipitous decline. He may be liable for a gamble or two too many that results in a big play, but his consistent ability, tied with his ability, has made him a valued asset to this defense, and one might expect that will continue in 2016.