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: Justin Layne’s roster spot is in jeopardy.
Explanation: The third-year cornerback has an opportunity to compete for a starting job this season. Yet there haven’t been any clearly positive reports about his progress, even though he is clearly the most-pedigreed contender for the role.
The secondary is entering a period of transition. The Steelers have to figure out whether or not Layne is a part of that. Concerning is the fact that he was given the opportunity to compete for a starting job this year, and he has utterly failed to distinguish himself during the spring, according to the onlooking beat writers. That is in contrast to others such as James Pierre, who appears to have passed him on the depth chart.
The fact that he put himself in a position to be arrested earlier this offseason is a part of the equation. Not that he did anything egregiously wrong, but that level of irresponsibility at such a pivotal point in his career doesn’t suggest that he is properly focused on the task at hand.
While his competition may lack pedigree, the Steelers have stacked the back of the roster with hungry young defensive backs, many of whom are more versatile than Layne such as Tre Norwood, Shakur Brown, and others. They will have the offseason to prove themselves capable of making a difference where the former third-round pick has not in two-plus years.
The Steelers have lost too much in the secondary—from Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton to Sean Davis and Jordan Dangerfield—to really put Layne in too big of a risk. It’s still entirely reasonable to project him as the number four cornerback right now behind Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, and James Pierre.
Lest we forget, he is also a special teams contributor, and really, a pretty good one. He actually logged over 250 snaps on special teams in 2021, clearly establishing himself as a fixture on the unit. And if Pierre is going to have a defensive role, then Layne will be need even more in that area.
And what are the other options? As pure corners, as outside corners? Shakur Brown? Stephen Denmark? Arthur Maulet? He might not be off to a great start, according to the analysis of some beat writers. But as we sit here right now, there’s no reason to assume he is in danger of not making the team.