The Pessimist’s Take: More Big Play From William Gay

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 pessimist’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?

One of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ free agency priorities was to assure that they were able to retain their own key players set to hit the open market. They managed to accomplish one of their major offseason objectives just before the start of the new league year when they inked 10-year veteran cornerback William Gay to a new three-year contract.

In doing so, they assured that they were able to retain the team’s top cornerback from last season, and, frankly, from the past three seasons since he first returned to Pittsburgh in 2013, where he has since started 40 of 46 games played, including 16 in 2015.

During the year, Gay secures two more interceptions to give him six over the course of the past three seasons, returning one of them for a touchdown. He also recorded a sack and 48 tackles, and many sites credit him with having not given up a single touchdown all season.

But 2015 was the first season in which the Steelers actually went into a season anticipating, and needing, Gay to be their top cornerback. At 31 years old now, one has to wonder how much longer he has to perform at the level he has, which is something below a Pro Bowler.

One factor that influenced his relatively low target total from last season is the fact that the Steelers’ starting cornerback across from him, Antwon Blake, was one of, if not the most heavily targeted players in the entire league, and gave up the corresponding statistics that speak to that effect.

Blake has already signed elsewhere, which means that somebody else will be lining up in that spot. Will they attract the same amount of attention away from Gay? Will Gay’s speed, such that it is, still hold out well enough for him to retain the mental advantage that had made him such an important player in recent years?

These are not questions with definite answers, to be certain, and from personal observations, it seemed to me that Gay’s performance declined late in the season, including in the postseason. He may still be the team’s top cornerback in 2016, but that is not saying much, and he is clearly entering the downswing of his career trajectory.

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