When former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Brice McCain was released earlier this offseason after spending one year of a two-year contract with the Dolphins, many fans of the Steelers suggested that the Steelers should scoop him up.
McCain was close to a nobody on fans’ radar when he was initially signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2014 to a one-year veteran-minimum qualifying contract, and he may have stayed that way had a conspiracy of injuries and ineffectiveness not vaulted the 5’9” slot cornerback into the starting lineup.
He recorded three interceptions for the Steelers and suddenly became a ‘must-re-sign’ to some, only to see him walk away with a two-year, $5 million contract.
Coincidentally, he was just signed yesterday by the Titans to a two-year, $5 million contract, which is both good news and bad news for the Steelers in their own free agency plans. For one, of course, it takes a cornerback off the market, though it is one that was clearly paid more than they would be willing to. The fact that the evidence suggests cornerbacks will be making bank this offseason is no comfort either.
But it is a comfort that the team that he signed with was Tennessee, whose defensive coordinator is Dick LeBeau, a name that will no doubt be familiar to just about anybody reading this site, because the Titans would figure to be one of the primary teams interested in one of the Steelers’ own pending free agent cornerbacks, William Gay.
The Steelers drafted Gay in the fifth round of the 2007 draft and has since spent seven of his nine seasons playing under LeBeau, with the exceptions being the 2012 season, during which he was in Arizona—also on a two-year contract, of which he only saw one year—and the 2015 season, after Pittsburgh parted ways with their long-time defensive coordinator.
Gay and McCain are similar players in many ways, with McCain being the slightly shorter and younger of the two, by about two years, so to that end, it wouldn’t seem likely that the same team would hold a great interest in bringing in two players of the same skill set for a similar price during the same offseason.
In other words, if the signing of McCain significantly reduces the Titans’, and LeBeau’s, potential interest in pursuing Gay in free agency—at factor no doubt aided by McCain’s status as a street free agent—then that can only be taken as good news for the Steelers.
Taking out one of the potential primary suitors for Gay, their top cornerback whose market value may be unclear, is a bit of welcome news, I would think, especially in light of the potential reality that the cornerback market is going to be rather inflated this year.
While Gay may have every interest in returning to Pittsburgh, he will also want to be paid at or near market value, especially given that he has outperformed his pay grade, recording six interceptions with five pick sixes in 40 starts over the past three seasons since returning to the Steelers.