Remember back in 2014 when the Pittsburgh Steelers were starving for a cornerback, Darqueze Dennard was there for the taking, and the team drafted…inside linebacker Ryan Shazier? Boy, that turned out to be the right decision, obvious exceptions going without saying. Dennard certainly never lived up to his first-round draft status.
Now after completing his rookie contract, including the fifth-year option season, it seems as though the Cincinnati Bengals are prepared to allow him to leave in free agency. He never managed to crack the starting lineup, though in his defense the team kept drafting cornerbacks in the first round, including Dre Kirkpatrick before him and William Jackson III after him.
In between them, they spent most of Dennard’s career with Adam Jones, a free agent signing and former first-round pick, in the starting lineup. Even Leon Hall was still there at the start of his career during his rookie season.
While he was paid a salary of over $8.5 million in 2018 on the fifth-year option—cue Steelers fans gnashing their teeth about Bud Dupree—I think it’s safe to say that he is not going to command anything near that salary on the open market.
Though a solid run defender, Dennard’s career has been marked by inconsistency in coverage, which is kind of a big deal for a cornerback. Unfortunately for him, perhaps the most memorable moment of his 2018 season—maybe even his career—was that catch JuJu Smith-Schuster made over him in Week Six. He injured his shoulder on that play and missed three games as a result.
Last summer, the Bengals did try to work out an extension for the cornerback, looking to pay him as a slot defender, but he opted to pass, essentially betting on himself, looking to hit the open market. Starting today, he can finally talk to teams and get a sense of what his value will be measured at around the league.
As a player who has failed to show that he can compete on the outside over the course of his five seasons, it’s very unlikely that a team like the Steelers would show him much interest, I think, at least not for the contract that he is apparently hoping to land over the course of the next week or so.
Pittsburgh passed him over in 2014, and likely will do so again, but they still need to find help at the position somewhere, perhaps in multiple places. Signing a player who can compete to start in free agency and adding a high draft pick seems to be their process of late. It doesn’t always work out.