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Old 02-13-2011, 07:49 AM   #1
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Default Steelers' Ike Taylor ready to cash in?

Steelers' Ike Taylor ready to cash in?
Sports Xchange
Updated Feb 12, 2011 1:09 PM ET

Given their uncanny ability to draft, develop and advance players, the Pittsburgh Steelers rarely lose a veteran for whom they don't have a ready and able replacement. But the AFC champions might be out of luck in supplanting corner Ike Taylor if he departs via free agency.

Taylor's agent, Joel Segal, told The Sports Xchange this week that there have been "zero negotiations" to date and that he expects the eight-year veteran to be "a very hot guy" in free agency.

He might be right.

It could be time to break out of the closet those old, dusty, "I Like Ike" campaign buttons from the 1950s and polish 'em up.

Taylor has some of the poorest hands in the league among cornerbacks, and drops more than his share of would-be interceptions. But coaches, particularly defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau, regard him highly. He is the closest thing Pittsburgh has to a "shutdown" cornerback and is a terrific fit for the Steelers' system, a guy who is rarely out of position in coverage and plays the run well.

It's hard to say what the Steelers would do without Taylor, who will be an unrestricted free agent no matter the resolution of CBA discussions, and who seems destined to test the open market.

"I've been (in Pittsburgh) my whole career, and I'd like to finish with the Steelers," said Taylor, a fourth-round pick in 2003. "It's my home, and I really don't know anything else. But (stuff) happens, so we'll see."

Taylor signed a five-year, $22.5 million extension just before the start of the 2006 season, but that deal will expire, and it will likely cost the Steelers a lot more to keep him. Despite the success of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in last week's title game, Taylor played pretty well in Super Bowl XLV. Rodgers clearly targeted corners Bryant McFadden and William Gay throughout the game. On one of the game's biggest plays, a third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings up the seam, Taylor had excellent coverage, but Rodgers lofted the ball just over his finger tips.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert acknowledged last week the Steelers are "definitely behind" on some negotiations because of their appearance in the Super Bowl, but emphasized Taylor is a priority for the club. However the team is expected to use a franchise tag on linebacker LaMarr Woodley, so retaining Taylor could be a stretch.

As of Thursday night there were no discussions planned as the Steelers, like many teams in the league, wait for CBA negotiations to play out.

Pittsburgh has drafted four cornerbacks in four years Gay (fifth round, 2007), Keenan Lewis (third round, 2009), Joe Burnett (fifth round, 2009) and Crezdon Butler (fifth round, 2010) and none seems ready enough yet to step in. Gay started 14 games in 2009, but was inadequate enough that the Steelers re-acquired McFadden in a trade. Gay is seen more as a nickel defender than a starter in the "base" defense.

Around the league

Corner market: So why might Taylor have a healthy market, even though he has just 11 interceptions in eight seasons, and has only once posted more than two in a campaign? For starters, Taylor is very durable, having missed just one start the past four seasons, and averaged 14.8 starts over the last six years.

And then there is the free agency cornerback class: Nnamdi Asomugha, who voided his contract with the Raiders, is going to cost a ton. Champ Bailey is 32 years old and at some point in the next three or four years will move inside to safety. Ronde Barber is 35 and everyone figures he's headed back to Tampa Bay. Antonio Cromartie is, well, Antonio Cromartie.

At 30 years old, set to turn 31 this spring, Taylor is a viable alternative who is a low-maintenance guy and one who knows how to win.

Two other corners on whom to keep an eye, according to one league pro scout: Carlos Rogers of Washington and Buffalo's Drayton Florence. Said the scout to The Sports Xchange: "(Florence) could be the surprise guy. He just turned 30, he's really pretty mature, and he's become a good player."

The veteran has only 14 interceptions in eight seasons, but has six years with double-digit passes defensed and plays good run support.

(Rest of the article is not about the Steelers - mesa)
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