Harris: Lining up to ink Ike
By John Harris
Saturday, April 23, 2011
He can't catch a cold, much less an interception. His questionable hands are the object of ridicule, but free agent cornerback Ike Taylor could have the last laugh.
New York. Philadelphia. Denver. St. Louis. Arizona. Houston. Those are some of the teams targeting Taylor, whose combination of pass coverage skills and run-forcing ability are difficult to come by.
Other teams such as Baltimore — Baltimore! — Carolina, Washington, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Dallas could also be in play for Taylor, who turns 31 on May 5.
When it comes to the soap opera involving Taylor's NFL future — will he stay or will he go? — it isn't about for whom he'll play in 2011 as much as where he won't play.
"I still say the Giants, but I'm hearing Denver and Houston. St. Louis loves him a lot,'' said Dave-Te' Thomas, who operates Scouting Services Inc. and produces the NFL Draft Report for 27 of the 32 teams. "The Giants have always been high on Taylor. And with his agent's relationship with the Giants, I could see them getting involved."
Taylor is represented by New York-based attorney Joel Segal.
"I see him ending up anywhere but Pittsburgh," Thomas said. "He's in a great situation because it's a bad draft for cornerbacks.''
That's bad news for the Steelers, who because of the lockout will be forced to approach the draft next week assuming Taylor won't be back.
"Teams have to go into this draft with a whole new mindset,'' Thomas said. "If you have a player who's a free agent, you have to consider him (gone).''
The most surprising element about Taylor's foray into free agency isn't that he may not finish his career with the Steelers. Rather, it's why the Steelers permitted Taylor to become an unrestricted free agent.
The Steelers' lack of talent at cornerback behind Taylor — headlined by Bryant McFadden, William Gay, Keenan Lewis, Anthony Madison and Crezdon Butler — is well documented. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. this week said the Steelers will have "monumental issues if Taylor isn't there.''
Kiper made no mention of Taylor's 11 career interceptions in eight seasons — with a high of three in 2007. Thomas believes that lack of interceptions is why the Steelers have been reluctant to re-sign Taylor.
"If Taylor had those interceptions, the Steelers would have known they had to sign him, so they're using that as an excuse,'' Thomas said. "I just don't think that Pittsburgh thinks he's worth the money. If he was worth the money, they should have gotten a deal done a long time ago.
"He's made sacrifices. He re-did his contract to help them (Taylor restructured his contract twice so the Steelers could sign linebacker James Harrison and running back Rashard Mendenhall). Ike is a great stepchild for the Steelers. He will do everything the stepfather wants him to do, but the stepfather still feels he's not one of their own. They've seen how many times he's conceded at the contract table and that Ike will concede this time.
"This time, Ike is saying, 'I need my money.' ''
Taylor has been off-limits to the media since February. He told the Tribune-Review during the week of the NFL Scouting Combine he was excited about his pending free agency.
"This is a good time for me to be a free agent," Taylor said. "Teams (have seen) my tape. People are finally paying attention."
Thomas considers Taylor among his greatest success stories. He advised teams prior to the 2003 draft to select Taylor over Louisiana-Lafayette teammate Charles Tillman, who was more highly regarded coming out of college. Tillman was drafted in the second round, two rounds before Taylor. But Taylor has had a better NFL career.
Still, Thomas didn't hesitate to criticize Taylor's hands, which are the weakest part of his game.
"Even though I discovered Ike, I'm not going to play favorites,'' Thomas said. "I've got to call it like it is. He knows what his weaknesses are, so he concentrates on his strengths.''
Those strengths have teams lining up to sign Taylor, who has never missed a game because of injury.
In Baltimore, owner Steve Bisciotti told reporters during his end-of-the-season news conference that the Ravens pattern themselves after the Steelers. What better way to emulate Baltimore's top rival in the AFC North than to sign Taylor, who would fill a need at cornerback while also weakening the Steelers?
"They have those two Super Bowl trophies in the last five years, so they have the confidence,'' Bisciotti said of the Steelers. "We're trying to be there, and we're close. When we get there, we're going to be more confident.''
If the thought of Taylor signing with the hated Ravens raises the hair on the back of your neck, so should the Steelers' unexplained willingness to allow Taylor to become an unrestricted free agent.
John Harris can be reached at email@example.com
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