Justin Gilbert an unforgivable experience for at least one NFL team
It isn’t often you can say that the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns get something wrong. The emphasis on the word “and” there, meaning the Browns often make poor decisions while the Steelers often do not.
In the case of CB Justin Gilbert, both teams made a boo-boo, though Pittsburgh’s may be more forgivable. The Steelers traded a 2018 sixth-round draft pick to their division rival for Gilbert, a former first-round draft pick by the Browns (2014, 8th overall). The transaction was an effort to help Pittsburgh shore up an ailing and inexperienced secondary which had just lost one of their components and anticipated contributors, Senquez Golson, to an injury for a second straight season. Gilbert also figured to factor into the Steelers special teams plans as a collegiate kick and punt return ace who also served in the same capacity for the Browns.
Now it appears Gilbert will not be servicing any of the league’s 32 teams in 2017 after it was reported he will be suspended for the entire season:
Source: Free agent CB Justin Gilbert has been suspended for a year by commissioner Roger Goodell.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 20, 2017
Gilbert was released by the Steelers in February after failing to find a foothold with the team. As a top ten draft pick, Gilbert would have been due a raise based on his original rookie deal which carried over from Cleveland. Rather than take the hit, and possibly knowing something else was in the works, the Steelers cut their losses; a sixth-round pick in exchange for a player who was considered by many to be the top cornerback in his draft class.
That sixth-round pick is a forgivable decision when compared to the 8th overall selection the Browns spent on Gilbert, whom they felt would become their shutdown corner of the future. Rather, the Browns have nothing to show for their first round manuevers in the 2014 NFL Draft. The team traded their 4th pick overall to the Buffalo Bills, who used it to acquire WR Sammy Watkins. Cleveland then moved up one spot, from ninth overall, to swap picks with the Minnesota Vikings and select Gilbert.
Fourteen picks later, the Browns would use the second of their two picks in the first round of that draft on Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, whom they had also hoped to groom into a franchise quarterback. The following season, the pick Cleveland gained from Buffalo was used to pick Florida State center, Cameron Erving. Manziel was released in March of 2016 by the Browns and has not drawn interest from any other NFL team.
Erving is still with the team but was replaced by undrafted Anthony Fabiano, who was called up from the team’s practice squad after Erving struggled and other injuries forced the Browns to shuffle their offensive linemen.
The aftermath of Cleveland’s trade with Buffalo produced an inconsistent but dynamic receiving threat in Sammy Watkins for the Bills but left the Browns with two bad picks in Gilbert and Erving.
We don’t yet know who the Browns will use Pittsburgh’s sixth-round pick on in next year’s draft, or how that player will turn out. It will take years to see how that trade shakes out. But right now, we can see the Steelers move for Gilbert was a low risk and high reward transaction. Had it worked out for Pittsburgh, they would have added a dynamic player. Often sixth-round draft picks come with a “boom or bust” proposition. For every success story like Antonio Brown or Vince Williams, there is a Travis Feeney, Justin Brown, or Jordan Zumwalt.
I’d rather risk that, versus missing on Anthony Barr, Taylor Lewan, Odell Beckham Jr., Aaron Donald, Ryan Shazier, Zack Martin, C.J. Mosely, or Ha Ha Clinton-Dix: players who were all taken after Justin Gilbert and before Johnny Manziel in 2014 and have since been selected to the Pro Bowl.
Therefore, I think you can agree with me that the Steelers attempt at giving Gilbert a second chance is forgivable; and far more forgivable than the decisions Cleveland made that fateful year.