In a surprising move several days ago, the Pittsburgh Steelers released CB Arthur Maulet, taking one player out what has suddenly become a crowded CB room. The Steelers drafted CBs Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr. on and signed Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan during the offseason. These additions were made to add to a group that had Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, James Pierre, and Maulet on the roster last season.
While major questions still loom regarding Pittsburgh’s slot CB heading into the 2023 season, the outside CB room looks full with veterans like Peterson, Wallace, Witherspoon, and Pierre in the fold as well as rookies like Porter and Trice looking to make an impact in their first NFL seasons.
If you had to ask anyone following the team which CB would most likely get the axe prior to the Maulet release, your response probably would have been Ahkello Witherspoon. Bleacher Report’s David Kenyon seems to agree with the sentiment, listing Witherspoon as Pittsburgh’s most notable player that could still get cut from the roster this offseason.
“The franchise stumbled into a bit of good fortune when Joey Porter Jr. fell to the second round,” Kenyon said. “Pittsburgh also returns Levi Wallace and James Pierre, signed both Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan in free agency and may prefer to keep seventh-round pick Cory Trice over Ahkello Witherspoon, who’s only played 13 games in the last two seasons.”
Witherspoon is coming off a dismal 2022 campaign in which he only played in four games before being lost for the season due to a nagging hamstring injury. Even when he was on the field, Witherspoon struggled to recapture those flashes of success he had with Pittsburgh down the stretch in 2021, allowing 22 completions on 29 targets (75.9%) for 248 yards and four TDs. He also allowed a passer rating when targeted of 126.1, according to Pro Football Reference.
Witherspoon has been more of a feast or famine player during his NFL career. He has the size and press man overage skills to guard bigger receivers along with the ball skills to make plays but lacks the quickness and consistency to cover some of the better route runners on a weekly basis. Pittsburgh drafted two CBs with similar skills set as Witherspoon in Porter and Trice and the team could save $4 million in cap space prior to displacement by releasing him. It only makes sense to cut bait with Witherspoon unless he can prove he is head-and-heels better than Pittsburgh’s outside options, which include Peterson, Wallace, and likely Porter.
There’s a chance the Steelers take Witherspoon to training camp just to protect themselves from potential injuries at the position. What is more likely is that the team will evaluate the state of the room during OTAs and mandatory minicamp and then determine whether it can find a trade partner to dump Witherspoon and his salary for a late Day Three draft pick or cut him outright. This would preclude Witherspoon suffering an injury in training camp and Pittsburgh being on the hook for his salary.
Either way, if you had to bet on whether Witherspoon will be on this team’s 53-man roster to open the regular season, the smart bet would be on Witherspoon playing for another team by that time or looking for a job.