2018 Offseason Questions: Can A Case Be Made For Keeping Wilcox?

The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.

We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.

You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.

Question: Is there a sound case to be made for safety J.J. Wilcox not being a cap cut over the next couple of weeks?

Late in the proceedings building up to the start of the regular season last year, the Steelers were very active in their attempts to shore up some loose ends and try to recoup some value from commodities cast aside. They traded away Sammie Coates and Ross Cockrell, signed Joe Haden, and traded for Vance McDonald and J.J. Wilcox.

For the most part, these moves worked out for the better, but Wilcox’s was the glaring omission. The fifth-year safety, who just signed with the Buccaneers in free agency but spent his first four seasons with the Cowboys, was not the player they were hoping to get.

The Steelers felt they were lacking depth at the safety position and thought Wilcox would shore that up. They seemed eager to use him early, rotating him a bit with Mike Mitchell, who was nursing an injury at the time, and when Mitchell finally missed a game, it was the newcomer getting the nod to start, even picking off a pass in the game.

That would be the lone highlight of Wilcox’s season, however. He finished the season with a dozen tackles, some of which came on special teams, but he lost his position as the top backup safety and then struggled on special teams, recording a number of penalties. It became such an issue that he ended up a healthy scratch in games late in the year.

But it’s easy to gather that he must not have been all bad in the past. His grades at Pro Football Focus are a bit all over the place, but he had a very good coverage grade in 2016. Missed tackles were an issue, but one that was trending in a positive direction.

A case could be made that, like Haden and McDonald, an actual offseason with the team and in the system could reveal a better player in Wilcox next season. But in order to find out, they would have to pay him a base salary in excess of $3 million. That’s a steep price of admission for a team close to the cap limit, yet one that might interest a team lacking safety depth as well.

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