Steelers Free Agency: Sign Keenan Lewis, don't lose sight of Cortez Allen
By Neal Coolong on Jan 1
Having depth at cornerback is a good problem to have, but the Steelers will need to act if they wish to keep what could be one of the best young cornerback duos in the league.
The business side of football doesn't always hold the simple concept of winning championships as the top priority. Or at least some actions don't appear to be in line with that goal.
Teams often take the financially motivated one step back in order to build to the two-steps-forward mentality in terms of production.
Odder things would have happened in the NFL than if the Steelers let cornerback Keenan Lewis walk in free agency.
When you've got highly talented CB Cortez Allen creating turnovers on a pace rarely seen from a Steelers cornerback, it's hard to ignore. Deshea Townsend was the last Steelers cornerback to have five combined interceptions and forced fumbles in a season and that happened in 2004. That was a team that had 40 total takeaways. The 2012 Steelers had 20, and Allen had five of them in the last two games of the season.
Granted, that in itself isn't enough to give him the starting job and begin campaigning for his Pro Bowl selection in 2013, but it's certainly enough for the team to consider when setting the ceiling on what they'll offer Lewis in his contract negotiations, scheduled to begin in the near future.
As Lewis's high school teammate Mike Wallace prepares to depart, the Steelers must weigh the depth of their team. It's a luxury to have three starting caliber corners, and in this pass-heavy league, nickel defensive backs may as well be considered starters - particularly when they're on the Steelers. Allen played 563 snaps this season - 50 more than two-down nose tackle Casey Hampton. Teams load up on receivers and spread teams out, looking to exploit opponents with shallow secondaries.
Allen covered Bengals superfreak A.J. Green much of Cincinnati's 13-10 win over Pittsburgh in Week 16. Considering Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was throwing the ball to Green nearly half of his 41 throws (18 targets), the fact Green had 10 catches is understandable. It's more than difficult to prevent a player of Green's ability from getting the ball if an offensive game plan rests solely on getting Green the ball. Allen had a pair of picks in the game - his first two this season - and suddenly, he led the team's cornerbacks in interceptions.
It's certainly tantalizing to think of having three defensive backs who can cover the way Ike Taylor, Lewis and Allen can, especially considering Lewis (26) and Allen (24) are so young.
The economic rule in the NFL is investing in a position can result in a huge benefit immediately if the right players are selected. But a low contract becomes a high contract if that benefit is fully realized. If the Steelers are truly committed to the investment they made by taking three cornerbacks in the mid-rounds from 2009-11 (Lewis, Allen and Curtis Brown), they're going to need to sign them long-term as well.