Early Opinion: Why The Steelers Won’t Take a CB in the First Round

The Steelers are facing some tough decisions heading into the 2015 football season. With potentially one of the worst cap situations in the league, there are a number of players who could be released to make room for signing some of the team’s free agents.

Despite the wishes of many fans to get a “shutdown corner,” my speculation of the off-season business decisions leads me to believe the Steelers WILL NOT draft a cornerback in the first round of the 2015 draft.

Before you call me crazy, hear me out.

First, let’s address the cap situations. As much as fans are clamouring for a release of Mike Mitchell and Cortez Allen in the secondary, the financial terms may not make this possible.

The most “un-releasable” of the too players is Allen, who signed a big contract last August. Despite being ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 105th (out of 110) at his position, “Tez” has a lot of upside potential. Considering his problems appear to be more a lack of confidence or mental focus, than shortcomings in his physical attributes, the Steelers will not want to cut Allen and take a near $7 million cap hit in the process. The most likely scenario, if there is one, is that Allen may restructure his contract.

Mike Mitchell alledgedly played with a groin injury all season, after being the team’s prized free agent signing. With Mitchell’s 2015 cap number around $5.6 million, and the rest of his contract having virtually no impact after the upcoming season, it’s fair to think the team will also take a flyer on “M&M” and give him one more season to prove himself.

In both situations, these players cannot easily be cut to save money, and therefore, would be more difficult to replace, than give second chances to.

Next up in the secondary is Troy Polamalu. It sounds like blasphemy when talking about a first ballot Hall-of-Famer, but Troy’s days in Pittsburgh, and possibly his NFL career, may be over. Troy carries an $8.25 million cap hit (4th highest on the team) and could save the team upwards of $3 million in cap space if he were released. Unlike Cortez Allen, a restructure and play-it-out for another year scenario may not be in Troy’s stars.

Of course, the ball is in Troy’s court as well, to see if he wants to play another season of football. If he does not, the Steelers could seek a safety, but have other options at the position.

Mixed with the decisions to keep or cut personnel, the front office will also be challenged with decisions on their own free agents. These decisions could signal whether the team is contemplating drafting a DB high in the draft.

Troy Polamalu’s replacement during the season was Will Allen, who is an unrestricted free agent when the league year begins in March. An oft-injured and unproven Shamarko Thomas also lies in wait as a likely replacement. If Will Allen returns, the team may turn their head from looking for a safety.

As for a CB, only one starter is known for sure: currently, William Gay is the only one under contract. Late year starters Brice McCain and Antwon Blake are free agents, though Blake is restricted. Long-time starter Ike Taylor is also a free agent.

If money dictates direction, we should have a clear idea of where the team is headed come May’s draft. If the prediction is that Troy will depart, and players such as Will Allen, McCain and/or Blake return, the secondary depth chart would have little openings for a rookie. It’s also possible that Ike Taylor returns in a reduced role for a lower price.

That would give the Steelers 5 players with starting experience at CB: Gay, McCain, Blake, C.Allen and Taylor. As seen this season, 5th round selection Shaq Richardson never cracked the roster. I would doubt the front office spends a high pick on another player who may not see playing time, at least in the immediate future.

Of course, fans are looking at the immediate future as the reason to draft a young corner. But my argument is to look at the “stacked” CB draft class of 2014, and how those players haven’t panned out… at least not yet.

The Browns Justin Gilbert and Bears Kyle Fuller were both given starting opportunities, but didn’t quite excel in their roles. The Bengals first round draft choice, Darqueze Dennard, was rumored to be a Steelers pick: he was ranked 4th on the depth chart, behind oldie-but-goodies like Terrance Newman and Adam Jones.

Going back to a year prior to the 2013 draft, the top picks have largely struggled. The Jets Dee Milliner has been considered a “bust” while the Raiders D.J. Hayden has had his own setbacks.

While these arguments could be made of any position and any draft pick (and it’s still early to rule out any of these careers) I believe all of this will factor into the Steelers passing on a corner once again in the first round of the draft, and possibly on day 2 as well.

If the Steelers aren’t going to select a CB in the draft, what position do I feel they will target?

Well, I’m of the opinion that OLB is the greatest position of need, despite what some analysts are saying about CB. Three of the team’s OLBs are free agents: Jason Worilds, James Harrison and Arthur Moats.

Resigning Worilds may be difficult and the team was reluctant to sign him to a long-term deal last off-season. Harrsion, who despite a decent resurgence, has still been on the decline, and may decide to retire. Whatever decision is made with Moats, the team will need depth at the position, as was seen when Jarvis Jones went on the IR and the “break in case of emergency” glass was broken for Deebo.

This is very early to predict, but that’s why I will go on record stating the Steelers will not take a CB, but will draft an OLB or a DE, who could be converted to OLB, in much the same way they did with Lamarr Woodley… that is if they don’t seek a replacement for Heath Miller at TE…

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