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Buy Or Sell: Ahkello Witherspoon Will Start For Steelers In 2023

With the Steelers’ 2022 season unfortunately now in the rearview mirror, a 9-8 campaign that came up short too late in spite of a strong second half, we now turn our attention to the offseason, and the many decisions that will have to be made over the course of the next several months.

This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Decisions about the coaching staff must also be made, as well as who to prioritize in free agency, and what to look for from the outside, before getting to the draft.

These sorts of uncertainties are 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).

Topic Statement: Ahkello Witherspoon will be a starting cornerback for the Steelers in 2023.

Explanation: The six-year veteran had a horribly disappointing season after re-signing with the Steelers on a two-year, $8 million contract. He’s due a base salary of $4 million for 2023, with Cameron Sutton due to be a free agent and William Jackson III an obvious cap casualty option.

Buy:

In part attrition, part reset to the mean, Ahkello Witherspoon will return to the starting lineup for the Steelers this season, with the ‘starting lineup’ defined as a nickel package with three cornerbacks on the field at the same time.

For those optimistic about the Steelers drafting a plug-and-play starting cornerback, I gesture widely in the direction of the team’s history of drafting cornerbacks, in any round, under Mike Tomlin over the past 16 years. Even those rare hits (Cameron Sutton, Keenan Lewis, William Gay) took years to mature.

While I expect Sutton to be retained, Jackson will not, and, well, there’s not much else left. Levi Wallace and Witherspoon are your other two cornerbacks.

While he did not play well even before his injury last year, he shouldn’t be defined by one brief stretch of games against some quality opponents. He played much better at the end of the 2021 season. I don’t expect him to play at that level, but we know that he is capable of better than what he showed last year.

Sell:

If the Steelers could find Wallace in free agency last year, they can find somebody else to plug in if necessary, even if their options run slim. We can safely say by now that Wallace is ahead of Witherspoon on the depth chart, but there are other options.

That includes Arthur Maulet, like it or not, whose slot capability would allow the team to keep Sutton outside, where he wants to play and where he spent most of last season and had arguably the best year of his career.

There will be a pretty robust free agency market at the cornerback position this year. It is entirely possible that they make an outside addition and release Witherspoon altogether, coupled with a draft pick, which could come as early as the first round, realistically. Whether that first-round pick has family ties to the organization is less concrete.

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