Having been a bit busy the past couple of days, and with the timing of the release being a bit of a surprise, I didn’t really get an opportunity to properly digest the Pittsburgh Steelers’ move to terminate the contract of Cortez Allen, the fourth-round cornerback that they drafted out of The Citadel in 2011.
As we look back now in 2016, of course, we see a player who signed arguably the worst second contract with the Steelers in recent memory, with respect to what should have reasonably been expected in terms of return on investment. LaMarr Woodley would be mentioned by many, but it would be in error, because he was Pro Bowl player with aspirations to a higher level prior to his onset of chronic soft tissue injuries.
Before delving into all of that, however, I would prefer to reflect back on the early years of Allen’s tenure in Pittsburgh and his surprising ascent up the depth chart in his first two seasons. As you are probably aware, The Citadel is not exactly a football powerhouse, but the Steelers saw raw potential, and not to mention size.
It was widely regarded as likely that he would be a project, and that the team’s third-round pick, Curtis Brown, would be the immediate defensive contributor, but, of course, the opposite proved to be the case. And that was after Allen battled his first bout of professional injury. I believe it was a groin injury that kept him out of most of his rookie training camp and preseason, but once he got on the field, he quickly deflected a deep pass that was intercepted by the defense, and that seemed to lock up his roster spot.
While he rode the bench defensively for much of his rookie season, he had a surprisingly active role in helping to limit a Patriots offense and a young juggernaut tight end in Rob Gronkowski, who had just embarrassed the Steelers the year prior in his rookie season with three touchdowns.
Once he cracked the unit as a dime defender, he was in—sparingly the rest of his rookie year, but then as the team’s nickel back his second season. He got a cameo as a starter due to injury late in his second year and had some ups and downs, but enough to reveal promise, which eventually translated into his five-year, $26 million contract after the 2013 season, one in which he was demoted for much of the year.
There was a time during which Allen really did seem like he would be the future of the cornerback position for the Steelers. The argument wasn’t between Allen and Keenan Lewis, but rather Lewis and Ike Taylor. The team chose to stick by their aging starter.
There’s no doubt that injuries have played a significant and fundamental part in his career derailment, even if it is not a fully accounting of his story. Injuries may preclude him from ever being a consistent contributor for another team; but I sincerely hope that is not the case, and I wish him the best wherever his next opportunity might be.