There are not a lot of comments from teams during the offseason, especially in the downtime between the conclusion of one season and the start of the next league year, so we didn’t every really get to hear much of anything directly from any member of the Pittsburgh Steelers pertaining to the release of cornerback Justin Gilbert in recent weeks.
Gilbert, a former top-10 draft pick of the Browns, was acquired by the Steelers via trade in mid-August when depth at the position became necessary due to injury. Pittsburgh gave up a sixth-round draft pick in 2018 and took on the remaining two years of his rookie contract in the trade, though we learned afterward that it was no longer guaranteed.
In spite of the fact that he hardly got on the field at all on defense, and still played sparsely on special teams, his release became a surprise that subsided somewhat by the fact that they would not be on the hook for his salary as was previously believed.
Still, the release seemed to indicate that the Steelers did not see future potential in Gilbert, so it was good to finally hear some official comment on the matter when general manager Kevin Colbert recently spoke to the media and addressed an array of topics.
And his comments did seem to suggest that the team has some doubts about him that extend beyond simply the fact that he is not worth the couple million that would have taken to keep him on the roster without having the release him and re-sign him at a later point.
“He really was a really good practice player”, Colbert said of Gilbert, “and you saw some things where he would push the guys in front of him”. But he added that “going forward, it didn’t seem like it was going to be a good fit for what he was doing”.
I’m not entirely certain what the end of that last quote means, or if perhaps Chris Bradford mis-transcribed Colbert in meaning to say “what we were/are doing”, but it clearly seems to indicate that the Steelers were not entirely satisfied with what they saw nor were optimistic about his future development as it pertains to fitting within their defense.
As Bradford mentions, Colbert did not rule out the possibility of re-signing Gilbert, but from the sounds of it, the team is probably going to try to explore alternative avenues of addressing their cornerback depth chart.
Those who were hoping that Gilbert would develop with the benefit of a full offseason with the Steelers and become a significant contributor to their efforts would seem to have been dealt a blow by Colbert’s comment.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that Jim Wexell similarly observed Gilbert’s practice skills, and yet also noted that he seemed at times to not give everything on a play, as though to say, “I’ll get that in a real game”.