With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season over, the team finishing above .500 but failing to make the postseason, we have turned 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: Sold
Reasoning: In a move that surprised precisely nobody, the Steelers earlier this month released veteran cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who was due to earn $4 million in 2023 in base salary. Originally acquired via trade in 2021, he was set to enter the second year of a two-year, $8 million deal prior to release.
Steelers fans have been speculating probably since the bye week last year, if not sooner, about cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon’s future, and whether he would have one in Pittsburgh. They finally got their answer earlier this month, and nobody, I imagine, was surprised by it.
The team elected to release him ahead of the start of OTAs. Having replaced Cameron Sutton in free agency with Patrick Peterson and Arthur Maulet with Chandon Sullivan and having added Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr. through the draft, Witherspoon became expendable.
Acquired in 2021 via trade, Witherspoon spent the first half of that year almost entirely on the bench before injuries and performance issues gave him an opportunity to get on the field down the stretch. He proceeded to play the best football of his career, which he parlayed into a new two-year, $8 million contract in 2022.
He proceeded to play all of 248 defensive snaps before being released earlier this month. While he beat out free-agent addition Levi Wallace for a starting job, Witherspoon struggled significantly right out of the gate before getting injured. He returned only to have perhaps the worst game of his entire career against the Philadelphia Eagles, after which he was injured again and never returned to the field.
As of now, it appears that Peterson and Wallace are working in the starting lineup, though Porter should factor in as well. If he doesn’t take over a full-time starting role, he will likely be the nickel defender, possibly with Peterson kicking inside into the slot.
While it’s hard to ever argue against having too much depth in the secondary, $4 million—the salary Witherspoon was due in 2023—is an expensive price to pay for an outside cornerback who was likely to be no better than fourth on the depth chart.
And that’s without factoring in James Pierre and the slot options, including cornerback Chandon Sullivan and presumably safety Keanu Neal (or if not him, then Damontae Kazee). And rather than risk Witherspoon getting injured in the offseason, the Steelers decided to let him go before the start of leaguewide OTAs, with more time to catch on with another team.