Optimism Surrounding Keenan Lewis’ Return to Steelers is Fading Fast
Optimism Surrounding Keenan Lewis’ Return to the Pittsburgh Steelers is Fading Fast
Everyone knew heading into the 2013 off-season that the Pittsburgh Steelers were going to have some tough decision to make. The first of those tough decision was made yesterday when the Steelers released veteran outside linebacker James Harrison. Harrison’s release didn’t come as a huge surprise, but it’s never easy to replace a player of his caliber. A season ago the Steelers said goodbye to Aaron Smith and James Farrior two main-stays on the defensive front. With Harrison’s release and the Steelers not expected to bring back Casey Hampton in free agency the front seven will see two more of their veteran leaders move on.
It has been a long running tradition in Pittsburgh for them to watch star players leave and replace them with young players who become the next group of stars. That is the reason why most Steelers fans don’t talk about rebuilding, but instead refer to it as reloading. However, the Steelers have had some less-than-stellar draft classes recently and now they will have to do their best to replace Harrison and Hampton this off-season. Steve McLendon seems ready to take over as the nose tackle, but another team could still try to sign him even though he is a restricted free agent. Due to the tender the Steelers placed on McLendon another team would not have to give up any compensation to sign him.
Replacing Harrison at right outside linebacker could be Jason Worilds, but Worilds has had injury issues with his wrist and there isn’t a lot of shared confidence about his abilities. During his three NFL seasons Worilds has played in 42 games and has 10 career sacks, but he has played much better on the left side of the defense than on the right side. For that reason I have brought up the possibility of moving LaMarr Woodley to the right side so that Worilds can play on the left where he looks more comfortable. Woodley has the ability to be one of the top pass rushers in the NFL when healthy and I fully expect him to be back in top form in 2013.
However, during this 2013 season it’s not the veteran players the Steelers are losing that are causing some Steelers fans the most worries. Instead many fans, including myself, are more concerned with the possible loss of corner Keenan Lewis. Lewis finally came into his own and played very well during the 2011 season. In 2012 he took over as a starter for the departed William Gay, who was recently re-signed, and really made a name for himself. Now it is expected that another team may be willing to offer Lewis a large contract on the open market. If that happens the Steelers likely won’t be able to match due to their salary cap issues and will lose their young up-and-coming corner.
The Steelers are also expected to lose wide receiver Mike Wallace. That’s two young players that are just entering their prime that may be on their way out of Pittsburgh. This won’t be the first time the Steelers lose a young play-making wide receiver. They allowed Plaxico Burress to walk as a free agent early in his career and they traded Santonio Holmes to the Jets because of off-the-field issues. However, it’s rare for the Steelers to let a young defensive player walk in free agency.
Early in the off-season most Steelers beat writers and analysts believed that Lewis would be back with the team in 2013, but now that optimism is fading very quickly. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has written multiple times recently that he doesn’t believe Lewis will be back because of the deals he will be offered on the open market. Lewis may get a contract with an annual salary in the range of six or seven million. That may price him right out of the Steelers range due to their salary cap issues.
Earlier this week I brought up the idea of cutting Ike Taylor, who will be 33 next season, to open up the cap space needed to keep Lewis around. That idea was met with fans that agreed and disagreed, but my opinion is that the Steelers would be smart to keep the younger player who is just entering his prime rather than a 33 year old corner, who may only have two or three years left in his NFL career.
It would be very hard to watch Lewis walk in free agency just as he starts to come into his own as an NFL corner, but that is the position the Steelers now find themselves in with their salary cap situation. Pittsburgh used to be the type of team that would have cut Harrison two years ago and had a replacement who was a Pro Bowl player last season, but recent draft struggled have caused problems in that area. Instead we may watch a young star leave this off-season.
Luckily for the Steelers they have another young and good looking corner in Cortez Allen. Also, the signing of William Gay back to the Steelers adds some experience and a player that started for the defense just two years ago. However, watching Lewis leave would not be easy and the loss could hurt a secondary that ranked first in the league in 2012. Hopefully the Steelers can come to terms with Lewis on a new deal and he will be back in 2013, but if not the Steelers will be looking to fill yet another hole.
Steelers are winning the AFC North next season! (I had to say something optimistic, no matter how crazy, after reading all of the gloom and doom here the past few days.)
IMO, Lewis stays. You can't lose everyone...right?
I have a feeling the Steelers will get something done with Lewis. It will probably be the only thing they do in free agency until after June 1st when they can get maximum savings by releasing Colon. That's when the Steelers will resign Charlie and possibly Legs and Warren. It will also free up funds to sign the draft picks. Releasing Colon now doesn't make sense.
IDK about the doom and gloom on signing Lewis; Pgh has said all along that they intend on letting every FA hit FA and see what their value is. But if a team decides to pay Lewis near top $, or let's say 2nd tier $, then he might be gone. Of course, teams like Cleveland and Cinci could use another good CB and they both have $40 mill in cap space, so if they want him, they can easily outbid the Steelers. If I was either of those teams I would target Lewis as a top priority.
Originally Posted by hawaiiansteel
If this is actually an option, they should do whatever they have to, to make it happen. I realize that there is something to be said for showing bad business practice (i.e. the team callously cutting a player like Ike might not bode well for team morale), but what can't be ignored is Ike's future decline. His pretty good 2012 season notwithstanding, he is a player IN decline. Getting blinded by a year in which he had A LOT to prove (his disastrous end to 2011 season probably motivated his preparations this year. Probably won't see that effect in future years) is something THIS Steeler team can't afford.
We need young players. We need all of them.
Completely agree. Ike will be close to 33.5 by the start of the season. At the CB position, he does NOT have 2-3 years left. Yes, I know... he's always in great shape and I get that but old age happens regardless. He will decline a bit every year and Ike in his prime **MIGHT** be worth 9/mil year and that is questionable.. If Ike is on this team in 3 years, we are in trouble at CB...
Originally Posted by Shoe
In 3 years, you really want Ike Taylor, then at 36.5 years old playing against the likes of AJ Green? That is absolutely laughable. Please don't compare Ike to Champ Bailey either. Champ is a guaranteed HOFer and Ike won't sniff the Hall.
The Steelers Should Let Keenan Lewis Leave If He Wants And Is Offered #1 Cornerback Money
Mar 9th, 2013 at 8:30 pm by Dominic Di Tolla
Although retaining Lewis is likely a top priority for the Steelers, I do not consider him to be the “Must-Sign At All Costs” UFA he is believed by many to be. Moreover, I still staunchly believe that Pittsburgh’s brass should exercise fiscal responsibility when they take part in negotiations to re-up their Free Agent Cornerback.
Recent Free Agent Contracts, and What Lewis Could Be Offered
Competent pass-defenders are always a welcome addition to any roster. Thus, if a Cornerback can show some sort of promise early in his career, he can become a very rich man if he tests Free Agent market during his mid-late 20′s.
Even though Lewis was the Pittsburgh’s #2 man behind Ike Taylor at the position, the starter’s Passes Defended numbers from last year and overall skill-set could entice some Secondary-starved teams with plenty of cap-space (Indianapolis, Tampa Bay, and Cleveland) to consider him as a high-priority pickup.
If a market grows for Lewis, some of these franchises might even be willing to shell out “#1 Money” for the Steelers’ #2 man at the position to out-bid others for his services.
So how much do #1 Cornerbacks make in this day and age? Well, these guys below became very rich men last Spring:
Cortland Finnegan (5 years: $50 million), 79 Career Starts, 14 Interceptions, 28 years of age when deal was signed.
Brandon Carr (5 years: $50.1 million), 64 Career Starts, 8 Interceptions, 6 Fumble Recoveries, 25 years old.
Lardarius Webb (5 years: $50 million + $10 million s.b.), 19 Starts, 7 Interceptions, 4 Forced Fumbles, 1 KOR TD, 1 PR TD, 26 years old
Eric Wright (5 years: $37.5 million), 71 Career Starts, 13 Interceptions, 26 years old.
How Much Lewis Should Be Offered
Look, I understand that the number of Passes Defended Lewis recorded last year were the most by any player in the A.F.C. last year. In addition, I will give Lewis credit for how much he improved in numerous areas of his game, especially in man-to-man coverage, from Week 1 to Week 17.
I however did not consider the soon to be 5th year player to be “lights out,” or Pittsburgh’s most effective Cornerback over the course of the entire 2012 campaign. I do not believe that a player possessing Lewis’ experience (45 Games, 17 Starts) and inconsistent ability to bring ball-carriers down (whiff against Philadelphia on 4th and Inches last year was awful) should be paid like a #1 guy at his position. I should also mention that Lewis was not even covering opponents’ #1 targets until Ike Taylor went down with his leg injury against Baltimore in Week 13! Thus, if the Steelers’ Free Agent Cornerback expects the already strapped Front Office to pay him “top-dollar” this month, I hope that Pittsburgh’s brass tells him to rethink that idea.
Sure, some fans might be wowed by the large number of PD’s Lewis recorded last year, and some believe that those numbers alone make him a #1 Cornerback. But consider the following fans:
A large reason why Keenan racked up those stats was because the opposition was more willing to test him than they were the crafty veteran like Ike on the other side of the field. Overall, Keenan was targeted a total of 112 times (2nd most in the League) during the 2012 season according to Pro Football Focus (ESPN.com)! Thus, shouldn’t any somewhat competent player at Lewis’ position be able to break up the most passes in the A.F.C. if he is targeted that many times over the course of a regular season?
I should also mention that the number “112″ also points to the biggest reasons why I believe that Lewis is such a potential “big-money” risk:
His deficient ball-skills, and his inability to record Interceptions and Turnovers.
As most of you know, although Lewis was targeted so often in 2012, he recorded ZERO Interceptions and only ONE Takeaway (1 Forced Fumble) over the course of the 2012 season! Let me state that again: 112 times the opposition threw passes Lewis’ way in 2012, and he was unable to record one single “pick!” Sure, Steeler Cornerbacks have never been known for recording Interceptions in LeBeau’s Defensive scheme. But “oh-for” in 112 chances for Interceptions, and only 1 Forced Fumble? Give me a break with that “#1 Cornerback” nonsense.
Look, I am fully aware that Interceptions are not the “be-all, end-all” indicator of great Cornerback play. And yes, I understand that “shut-down” guys at the position do not record large amounts of Interceptions. Yet the elite’s lack of “picks” deals less with their overall ball-skills and ability to make plays, and instead more with the fact that opposing Quarterbacks do not want to make a mistake in their direction.
One would think that Corners who earn $50 million over a contract are supposed to have “field-days” on the stat-sheet in terms of Interceptions collected or chances to make “splash plays” if they are targeted 112 times in a season like Lewis was in 2012. Although I am not an expert, I think that it is pretty safe to assume that none of those guys I mentioned above would have gone “oh-for” if they had 112 balls going their way over a 16 game stretch.
So how much do I believe that Lewis should be making per season? Well it certainly is not $10 million, that’s for sure. But Pittsburgh’s Front Office members might want to keep a couple of contracts signed by Cornerbacks last year in mind when they try to negotiate a deal with Lewis:
Aaron Ross (3 years: $15.3 million), 41 Career Starts, 10 Interceptions, 2 Touchdowns, 2 Super Bowl Rings, 29 years old
Richard Marshall (3 years: $16 million), 55 Career Starts, 17 Interceptions, 7.0 Sacks, 27 years old
Thus, if the Steelers are looking to re-up Lewis, and he seriously wants t0 return, I believe that a contract in the $5-6 million dollar per year range over the duration of 4 to 5 years would be a great place to start for a #2 guy right now like him. If Pittsburgh’s Coaching Staff believes that he can and will usurp Ike as the #1 guy once he leaves, and can keep the depth behind him at bay too, then some incentive-based bonuses (for TAKEAWAYS) can be included for Lewis to earn.
As I alluded to in a previous post, a 4 year deal worth anything between $22 and $24 million would be more than fair for the Steelers to offer a player with Lewis’ upside. Yet I in no way shape or form believe that a current #2 Cornerback with only 17 career Starts, 1 career Interception, 2 career Forced Fumbles, 0 Postseason Starts, and hands reminiscent of “cinder-blocks” should receive anything more than that type of “fair” offer at this point in his career.
Look readers, I am completely and totally in favor of the Steelers re-signing Lewis. I simply cannot comprehend why Pittsburgh’s brass would want to “break the bank” for such a Cornerback of his caliber and with his lack of experience. If in fact any team offers Lewis more than $6 million per season, I hope that the Pittsburgh’s brass simply steps away and counts the money which they will inevitably allocate to other more important members on their roster (Maurkice Pouncey and Heath Miller come to mind).
I should also add that it is not like the Steelers have “chopped liver” set to take over for Lewis on the outside if he decides to leave. Cortez Allen is waiting in the wings if Lewis takes his game elsewhere, and the soon to be 3rd year Cornerback should be primed to improve off of a very productive year as Pittsburgh’s Nickelback in 2012. The former Citadel star not only set a career high in Tackles last year with 55, but he also finished with 10 PD’s, 2 Interceptions, 3 Forced Fumbles, and 1 Fumble Recovery.
Granted, if Lewis leaves the Steelers will have to rely on William Gay and youngsters like Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, and DeMarcus Van Dyke to play with consistency, and pick up the slack in the Slot and sub-packages. By the same token though, Pittsburgh’s brass will be able to learn whether or not the younger guys have the potential to improve, and are indeed worthy of being in the franchise’s long-term rebuilding plans.
While some of you will complain about the inevitable “growing pains,” just remember that Lewis was not exactly setting the N.F.L. “on fire” early in his career (2010 Denver Preseason Disaster). It took him 3 full years before he showed any sort of competency as a starter, and I should add that it was during a “contract year” for him. Remember readers, Ike Taylor signed a deal worth $28 million over 4 years after he had started on 2 Super Bowl teams, and established himself as the team’s best Cornerback over the half decade preceding the 2011 deal. Has Lewis done anything like that over his 4 seasons at the professional level?
Current depth and concerns about Lewis aside, I actually would like nothing more than for the Steelers to re-sign their #2 Cornerback. I just hope that the members of the Steelers’ Front Office do not have to “make it rain” to keep him in Pittsburgh. A $30+ million dollar deal will simply not be worth the time, effort, and cap-space for a rebuilding franchise like the Steelers to take on at this juncture.
I think a reasonable contract of around 5.7 mill a year for 5 yrs, might get it done, if he's offered more then go get it.
Keenan lewis had one good season, he's not the second coming of Mel Blount, and the Steelers should learn from shelling out big bucks to Woodley.
They won't get into a war trying to sign Lewis, this is why they got a contract done with Gay just in case Lewis wants more than they are willing to pay.
Gay is NOT a starter. Lewis is. Gay should not be looked at as a #1 or #2 and personally, I think he's a questionable #3. Gay should have only been signed for depth reasons and not an "insurance" policy for Lewis.
Originally Posted by supersteeler
I realize that, we have Cortez Allen to play opposite Ike if Lewis leaves, he wasn't signed to take Keenan's place but you still need some kind of experience back there even if you think Gay isn't qualified.
Originally Posted by steelz09
The Steelers won't overpay for Lewis and you can bank on that