The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: Either Justin Layne or James Pierre will develop into an every-down, full-time starter over time.
Explanation: While this is not necessarily a topic for 2021 with the Steelers having Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton—at least—it’s quite possible that Haden is in his last year with the team, meaning somebody else will have to start. From last year’s roster, Justin Layne and James Pierre are the only other options.
Being a starter and being a good starter are not always one and the same, so that makes it a little easier to buy this. I can’t guarantee that either Layne or Pierre are going to develop into good players. I can’t guarantee either, technically, that either one of them are eventually going to be given a shot to start, as early as 2022. But I can speculate that it will be the case.
Despite his evident late-season demotion behind Pierre, there is reason to believe that the Steelers remain high on Layne and his potential—enough that it should be viewed as a credit to Pierre himself that he garnered playing time in the postseason over Layne.
That to me is the biggest reason to believe that one of them will eventually end up being a starter on this defense, even if only on a temporary basis as a bridge to another starter down the road. Again, I can’t say they’ll be any good, but I can easily see it happening.
The news of Steven Nelson’s impending trade or release—which, who knows, may even have happened by the time this runs—pushes cornerback way up the ‘need’ board, to the point where we may even see the Steelers come out with another starting cornerback in free agency before we get to the draft.
The Steelers will clear about $7.5 million in cap space once Nelson is off the books. That’s enough to go out and sign a guy who can play for the next couple of years on a budget. That doesn’t even include the inevitability of the position now being addressed in the draft—and the obvious possibility that, you know, Haden could actually still be starting in 2022.