Devil’s Advocate: Hindsight On Justin Gilbert

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Does the Steelers’ trade for Justin Gilbert last summer still make sense in hindsight?

The Steelers have in recent history not gotten very good return on investment when it comes to trading draft picks for players. You would have to go back to 2010 to see them benefit much at all in acquiring a player while giving up a draft pick.

But the discussion about the trading for Justin Gilbert has been renewed recently after it was announced that he will be serving a year-long suspension this year. The former first-round draft pick has already weathered accusations of not having a passion for the game and not understanding the playbook. He remains without a team, though that could tie into the knowledge of a pending suspension.

When the Steelers traded for him last offseason, however, it came late in the process, and at a time in which they knew that they lacked depth at cornerback. Senquez Golson had gotten injured yet again, and they probably had a strong sense at that point that Doran Grant was not going to make the team.

All that the team really had going for them at the time as a ‘sure thing’ was William Gay, while banking on Ross Cockrell to be able to start, and hoping that rookie Artie Burns would be able to contribute. Rookie Sean Davis was already working in the slot.

The Steelers were badly in need of depth when they traded for Gilbert, and whatever happened subsequent to that doesn’t change that fact. And he did play in a couple of games. But more importantly, they would have had somebody if injuries arose. Luckily they did not.

Yet, what would they really have gotten out of Gilbert if somebody had gotten injured, and he had to play a significant role? In his limited snaps, he had a clear and defined role on the play, which was almost exclusively covering the tight end in the slot.

We know by now that he has frankly proven to be average at best as a cornerback, and well below average as a starter. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if Al-Hajj Shabazz could have done just as well if called upon, without giving up a sixth-round pick.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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