Bleacher Report Makes The Case For Steelers To Re-Sign One Key Defender Ahead Of Free Agency

Things could look much different on the defensive side of the football ahead of the 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers from a roster construction standpoint.

Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger could certainly decide to call it quits and hang up his cleats, starting a new era in Pittsburgh, while names like JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, Trai Turner and Eric Ebron will likely all be out the door.

Defensively, there’s even larger issues, considering names like Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds are free agents, Tyson Alualu could be a cap casuality largely due to his age and injury history, and the status of one Stephon Tuitt remains relatively unknown at this time.

With all the changes that are seemingly on the horizon, Bleacher Report’s Maurice Moton made the case for the Steelers to re-sign one key player ahead of free agency this offseason, and it’s not a name anyone would expect. That’s right, Moton makes the case for the Steelers to re-sign veteran cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon before he hits the open market.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

Witherspoon was acquired at the end of training camp for a fifth-round draft pick in 2023 and couldn’t see the field until Haden went down with a foot injury, largely due to Witherspoon’s inability to play special teams, as well as the poor play he showed in a Week 2 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in which he allowed former Raiders’ receiver Henry Ruggs III to get behind him for a long touchdown late in the game.

Once Haden went down though, Witherspoon has stepped up, recording two interceptions in the comeback attempt against the Minnesota Vikings, while also recording a season-high five tackles and a key pass breakup in a comeback win against the Baltimore Ravens.

With Haden back in the lineup Witherspoon slides back into a reserve role, but thanks to his strong play in recent weeks the veteran could see the field more in certain packages.

Even knowing all that, Moton still believes the Steelers must retain his services for at least 2022.

In September, the Pittsburgh Steelers traded a 2023 fifth-round pick to Seattle Seahawks for Ahkello Witherspoon. The low-risk, high-reward gamble on the 2017 third-rounder could pay off in the long run, Moton writes. “Over the past month, Witherspoon has made his presence felt in the Steelers secondary. In Week 13, he moved into a starting role and then put together a standout performance in his second showing with the first unit against the Minnesota Vikings, logging three pass breakups and two interceptions.

“When cornerback Joe Haden missed time with a foot injury, Witherspoon filled in as a viable replacement. As a result, the Steelers may allow the former to walk in free agency. Second-year cornerback James Pierre hasn’t played a defensive snap since Witherspoon carved a sizable role on the boundary three weeks ago. Clearly, the former Seahawk earned the trust of his new coaching staff, and now the Steelers should extend his stay.”

The Steelers certainly appear to have ended the James Pierre experiment, pushing Witherspoon into his role, which has worked out in recent weeks. With Haden hitting the open market and the Steelers unlikely to bring him back unless it’s on a one-year, team-friendly deal, all eyes will turn to Witherspoon, who is younger and cheaper, and has played some decent football in limited action.

Is he a guy that the Steelers need to go out of their way and retain well ahead of free agency? Absolutely not. Letting him walk for nothing would be poor asset management from the Steelers’ perspective, so it’s likely he’s brought back on a cheap one- or two-year deal, but he’s not someone the Steelers have to bend over backwards to retain, as Moton tries to make the case for.

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