Changes are cresting the horizon in Pittsburgh, and it’s high time to pay the pied piper, or something along those lines.
That change will include more than 20 players hitting free agency once the new league year starts in early March, which will see significant turnover within the roster in the Steel City.
Aside from quarterback and the impending departure of Ben Roethlisberger into retirement, no position group will be hit harder in free agency than the secondary, where Terrell Edmunds, Joe Haden and Ahkello Witherspoon are all pending free agents. After years of trying to rebuild the position, the Steelers could find themselves back at square one once again.
Asked Tuesday during his end-of-year press conference with the media about Haden and Witherspoon, and the possibility of retaining one of both of them, Tomlin praised the pairings professionalism and said that he values both guys, but that the Steelers need to have layered discussions about not only cornerback, but other positions as well, in terms of personnel moving forward.
“I value both guys’ professionalism, things of that nature, things that you value. But much like I was just talking about from a coaching staff standpoint, when you’re dealing with free agency, it’s free agency for us, it’s free agency for them,” Tomlin said to reporters Tuesday, according to video via Steelers.com. “I’m sure they’re weighing what’s best for them. We need to weigh what’s best for us, and oftentimes that includes them and the field, and the draft component.
“There’s a lot of significant discussions and plans that need to be had regarding personnel and our moves regarding them,” Tomlin added. “And if I didn’t acknowledge that, I’d be less than truthful. And so I value both guys, I’m open to doing business with both guys, but boy…there’s a lot of layers in that discussion that involve them in their position. And also people in positions outside of them.”
The Steelers did not come to an agreement with Haden ahead of the start of the regular season due to his age and overall asking price, and really only saw Witherspoon in action for nine games (three starts). Haden had an up and down year and dealt with a significant foot injury that caused him to miss five games. He looked a step slow at times and really wasn’t the same in coverage, though teammates have praised him repeatedly in recent days and weeks for his leadership and communication skills.
Witherspoon stepped into the lineup and really played well, picking off three passes and breaking up nine others, serving as a bit of a shutdown corner down the stretch.
One of the two undoubtedly need to be retained, considering the outlook of the positional depth chart moving forward without the two. Only Cameron Sutton, James Pierre and Justin Layne are under contract for next season at cornerback. That’s pretty dire.