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On Pursuit Of Cornerbacks, Lack Of Fire Doesn’t Mean Absence Of Smoke

It has almost become a comedy routine at this point when discussion the Pittsburgh Steelers’ supposed annual interest in cornerbacks. This year proved to be no different—at least regarding how it was received, and yet I do happen to believe that the front office this year truly did their due diligence to pursue every realistic opportunity to improve their secondary until it proved to be unfeasible.

Many have been quick to dismiss NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala in recent months, but the truth is that he is perhaps the reporter that is more embedded with the team than any other, and she was the first to report on the Steelers’ significant interests in attacking the cornerback market—if they could afford it.

But the point is that she wasn’t the only one. Jeremy Fowler was another prominent reporter who has clearly demonstrated in the past a correlation between his reports on the Steelers and things that actually came to pass later and who corroborated the idea that they were legitimately hoping to land themselves a new cornerback.

Both reporters relayed accounts from within the organization that expressed an internal desire to be able to play a defensive scheme that allowed them greater flexibility to play man coverage, which is something that they feel they were not yet equipped to do last year, as Mike Tomlin’s post-game comments following the Patriots loss indicated.

That should change somewhat next year as Artie Burns continues to develop, and especially if Senquez Golson somehow manages to not only stay healthy but to live up to his draft stock and of the team’s expectations for him. Even Ross Cockrell has some capability, but he is not primarily a man coverage cornerback.

Which is why they were looking for that sort of cornerback, most prominently Dre Kirkpatrick, but also Logan Ryan. Just because they ended up signing with other teams doesn’t mean that reports of the team’s interest in them should be construed as a fiction. I do believe that those reports were valid, and of a variety that was more than just a phone call asking if they’ll take veteran minimum as a joke, if you get my meaning.

It simply means that they were priced out of a market that annually reached new levels of exorbitance as the salary cap continues to rise dramatically every year. Every new free agency period makes the previous free agency period seem like a good value by comparison.

The Steelers were not in a position to bring in a starting cornerback if it meant paying them a contract that averaged out to double figures—in the millions, that is—and to be honest, it would not have been the pragmatic thing to do, either.

With the top of the market gone, however, Pittsburgh is losing opportunities to improve their ability to execute the defense they are looking for in 2017. Even if they draft a man cover cornerback in the first round of the draft, there’s no telling how quickly he will be able to play.

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