Free Agent Departures Mean New-Look Secondary For 2016 Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers have certainly lost their fair share of players thus far in free agency. Their own players have signed with other teams more than they have brought in players who were with other organizations last season—and that is in a free agency period in which they have uncharacteristically already brought in four players from the outside.

Two of the most interesting names among the players who have signed elsewhere are Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin, two of the Steelers’ three primary cornerbacks during their postseason run. Their names are interesting because they will need to be replaced.

Looking at the Steelers’ current roster, they only retain two players who were significant contributors at the cornerback position from last season, the foremost being William Gay, the 31-year-old veteran who was re-signed this offseason to a three-year contract. Also returning is third-year player Ross Cockrell, who was retained as an exclusive rights free agent.

Those two names may well make up the Steelers’ pair of outside cornerbacks in their 3-4 alignment. The only other two cornerbacks of note—who were with the organization last season—are the two that they added during the 2015 NFL Draft, namely second-round pick Senquez Golson and fourth-round pick Doran Grant.

I do not factor Cortez Allen into this equation because I fully expect him not to make the final 53-man roster, and the cap savings that the Steelers will gain from his release at that time will likely go toward paying for their 2016 draft class and potentially working out an extension or two with some of their own players who would hit free agency in 2017.

Golson, of course, is the most intriguing name here, given his draft pedigree and combined with the utter lack of first-hand knowledge that we have for him. He suffered a torn labrum at some point during the course of the offseason and never even made it to a training camp practice, ultimately landing on injured reserve.

With only four cornerbacks to speak of, however, it is obvious that the Steelers will have to address the position in the draft, and it is a strong possibility that we see the team double dip at the position once again, which they have done previously under this regime in 2009, 2011, and 2015.

And for the first time in a while, I also strongly suspect that a cornerback will be in serious play for their first-round draft pick, and it goes without saying that it has been a while since they used their most prized selection on what many are beginning to regard as the most prized position on defense in today’s game.

One thing is for sure, however, and that is that the secondary will look a lot different than it did last season simply by virtue of the amount of turnover we are seeing in personnel. Blake was a 16-game starter, and Boykin was an essential contributor as the primary nickel back from Week 13 through the Steelers’ postseason run. Most were near-universally down on that overall unit; it remains to be seen if the one fielded in 2016 will be an improvement.

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