Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we turn our attention to the offseason. One thing that it means is that some stock evaluations are going to start taking on broader contexts, reflecting on a player’s development, either positively or negatively, over the course of the season. Other evaluations will reflect only one immediate event or trend. The nature of the evaluation, whether short-term or long-term, will be noted in the reasoning section below.
Player: CB Ahkello Witherspoon
Stock Value: Down
Reasoning: With the Steelers keeping the bulk of their cornerback group together due to essentially a swap of Cameron Sutton for Patrick Peterson, and the team seemingly poised to address the position early in the 2023 NFL Draft, it would seem that Ahkello Witherspoon’s role, and possible even roster spot, is in jeopardy.
Everybody is rushing Ahkello Witherspoon off the island, it seems, and not without reason. He was neither healthy nor competent on the field in 2022. Yet one could also argue that his poor fortune on the health front deprived him of a proper opportunity to right himself.
First acquired via trade in 2021, Witherspoon spent much of that season on the bench as a depth option. Once he got on the field, he became an important player in the secondary and played some of the best football of his career.
It was enough to coax the Steelers into re-signing him on a two-year, $8 million contract, but while he earned a full-time starting job out of the chute, he quickly struggled and soon after lost it. He had a particularly horrendous outing against the Philadelphia Eagles after returning from injury, the game in which he was benched.
He didn’t play again after that. He said he did not aggravate his injury, but did get hurt afterward, and spent several weeks inactive before being placed on the Reserve/Injured List. He returned to practice just before a potential postseason run but never got the opportunity.
Since the offseason began, the Steelers did lose their top cornerback, Cameron Sutton, but they replaced him by signing Patrick Peterson. They also brought back James Pierre, who could make it difficult for Witherspoon to hold onto his roster spot.
With Peterson, Levi Wallace, and Pierre as the top three outside cornerbacks and a likely draft pick on the way, perhaps as early as the first round, one must seriously question if Witherspoon might even make it to OTAs.
He is due to earn $4 million in base salary in 2023. If he is not even going to be the top backup, which is quite possible, then even Pittsburgh will find it hard to justify paying him that. But there’s no rush to do anything now. Time will tell. The first step is seeing what the Steelers do at cornerback in the draft.