The 2016 season is unfortunately over, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are now embarking upon their latest offseason journey, heading back to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, formerly known and still referred to as the ‘South Side’ facility of Heinz Field. While the postseason is now behind us, there is plenty left to discuss.
And there are plenty of questions left unanswered as well. The offseason is just really the beginning phase of the answer-seeking process, which is lasts all the way through the Super Bowl for teams fortunate enough to reach that far.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring the developments in the offseason as they develop, and beyond, looking for the answers as we look to evaluate the makeup of the Steelers as they try to navigate their way back to the Super Bowl, after reaching the AFC Championship game last season for the first time in more than half a decade.
Question: Could the Steelers really be legitimately in the market to go after Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick?
We have gotten a couple of presumably independent reports over the course of the past few days that have intimated that the Steelers intend to break with their usual routine and actively pursue a high-profile cornerback during free agency in a way that goes beyond picking up a phone and saying ‘hey, will you play for cheap?’.
It should be noted that these two reports have come from Ian Rapoport and Aditi Kinkhabwala, both of whom work for NFL Network. Rapoport’s history of accuracy is—let’s call it spotty—though Kinkhabwala has spent a lot of time embedded with the team, even if that has not shield her from criticism.
There have been previous reports over the years of the Steelers being interested in top cornerbacks on the market such as Darrelle Revis and Alteraun Verner that never amounted to anything for obvious reasons, but if there is a case to be made for why this 2017 free agency period might be different, it would probably go something like this.
For one thing, the Steelers actually have some significant salary cap flexibility available to them this year, and I include everything on the table in that regard, including restructuring contracts. Pittsburgh knows Ben Roethlisberger’s window is closing, and with it their probably championship window. So spend now, the theory goes.
Additionally, the defense has been evolving over the course of the past few years, especially under Keith Butler, and there is reason to believe that they would like to adopt more man-coverage schemes if they have the personnel. Artie Burns will be more capable of that in year two. Ross Cockrell is more of a zone coverage player.
A player like Dre Kirkpatrick has those man coverage abilities that would allow the defense to play more aggressively and match up with the Patriots, which they may be setting their sights on now after having had them spoil their best chance to make it back to the Super Bowl in half a decade.
Please be certain to note that this is not the measurement of the quality of the notion of going after Kirkpatrick. This is a speculation about the legitimacy of the idea that it will actually happen. It would have been a terrible idea for the team to have drafted Justin Gilbert in the first round, but they would have if he were available.