Pittsburgh Steelers Send Stern Message to Backup Cornerbacks with William Gay Signing


When the Arizona Cardinals released Cornerback William Gay last week, I was almost positive that the Steelers would try to sign him.  I mean, I at least assumed that Pittsburgh’s brass would make a play for Gay when I considered the following:

  • Keenan Lewis could leave as a UFA this month.
  • Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau only plays younger players in “Break Glass in Case of Emergency” scenarios.

Right now, I am essentially indifferent to the fact that Gay is back in The Steel City.  I mean, at least the guy has been able to force Turnovers over the last two years (4 INT’s, 4 FF’s, 1 FR).  You know, Turnovers, something the Steelers’ Secondary could not force on a consistent basis last season (6 combined INT’s in 16 by Pittsburgh’s Defensive Backs in 2012).  I understand that many will point to his struggles in Arizona as a reason why he should not have been signed.  But I honestly cannot fault a guy for getting picked on as bad as Gay did (726 Yards Passing Allowed) last year when:

  • He was a Starting Cornerback instead of a Nickelback with the Cardinals.
  • Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson played on the opposite side of him.

Pittsburgh’s move to bring the six-year veteran from Louisville was actually a pretty significant one though.  In fact, one could argue that Gay’s acquisition highlights just how little faith the Steelers’ brass and Coaching Staff have in the guys behind Cortez Allen on the depth chart at Cornerback: Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian, and DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Brown is now “On Notice.” Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

Backup Cornerbacks “On Notice” With Gay in Town

Curtis Brown

Gerry Dulac of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette actually Tweeted the following in the aftermath of the Gay signing, and I believe that he captured the acquisition’s meaning perfectly:

"Steelers signing of William Gay is more about Curtis Brown than Keenan Lewis"

Things have not been easy for Brown since he came to Pittsburgh, especially when most believed that he would be the first of Pittsburgh’s Corners drafted in 2011 to make a significant impact on the Defensive side of the ball.  Oddly enough, it is the then-raw and inexperienced Cortez Allen who has received a significant amount of playing time over the last two years.  In fact, if Lewis leaves, Allen will be first in line to take over the #2 Cornerback spot.

Brown was basically abused and picked on when the Steelers took on the Chargers and Cowboys last year in Weeks 14 and 15.  I cannot necessarily blame the poor guy, especially since he had been forced to rot on the bench for the entirety of his career up until that point (2012: 28 Tackles, 2 PD’s).  Experienced or not, Brown looked lost, and San Diego’s smaller and shiftier pass-catchers particularly took advantage of how fast the game seemed to the poor Cornerback.  With William Gay in town again, Brown will be forced to fight for reps to stay on the field in “Dime” situations if Lewis stays.  Unfortunately for the former Texas Longhorn, he will have more competition than the veteran Gay to fight off this Summer.

Josh Victorian

Victorian to his credit made the team off of the Practice Squad, and was receiving a good deal of playing time by the time the regular season finished.  Like Brown, Victorian had his fair share of issues against the Chargers, and looked over-matched on a fade route TD pass.  The former Louisiana Tech Bulldog was at even more of a disadvantage the following week when Miles Austin and Dez Bryant were taking it to him up and down the field in Dallas.  Victorian (2012: 10 Tackles, 2 PD’s) did show some signs of improvement against Cincinnati and Cleveland during Pittsburgh’s final two games, and has the potential to be a valuable “Dimeback.”  With Gay in town now though, it certainly appears that Victorian will once again have to fight for a roster spot once Training Camp begins.

DeMarcus Van Dyke

Acquired before the 2012 regular season began, I actually believed that DeMarcus Van Dyke could have been a Free Agent steal for Pittsburgh if he was given time to learn the Defense and develop.  A 3rd Round pick in the 2011 Draft, Van Dyke struggled during his first and only season in Oakland, and was eventually released after only one year with the Raiders.  Unfortunately for Van Dyke, he only played in 9 games last season before he sustained a season-ending shoulder injury versus Dallas.  Worst of all though, DeMarcus was almost exclusively used on Special Teams (2012: 3 Tackles) and was eventually passed by Victorian on the team’s depth chart.  Of the three players I mention today, Van Dyke’s journey to a roster spot will likely be the toughest due to his lack of experience on the Defensive side of the ball with the Steelers.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I believe that Gay’s deal (3-year $4.5 million) makes sense from both cost and football-insurance purposes.  With the cap moving up, the Steelers should be able to afford a small-cost and small-risk deal like Willie’s.  Remember, Pittsburgh has yet to restructure LaMarr Woodley’s “albatross” of a long-term deal.  Furthermore, the team also has the option of either releasing or restructuring expensive veterans like James Harrison and Willie Colon too.  I should also mention though that the Steelers brass’ have created significant amounts of “cap room” after they massively restructured the deals of Lawrence Timmons, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger over the last month too.

Warm and fuzzy feelings about “cap compliance” aside, Gay’s signing basically illustrates exactly what Dulac’s Tweet alluded to: the utter lack of faith this team and Coaching Staff have in Brown, Victorian, and Van Dyke at this point in the offseason.

Do not get me wrong, all three of these players must step up their games’ if they want to remain with the Steelers in 2013.  As professionals on a veteran Defense, they simply are not going to be handed playing time for sub-par play.

Who knows though?  All three of them could take Gay’s acquisition as a challenge, and use it as fuel to play better this year.  Thus, a stellar offseason workout and Preseason performance by somebody could force the Coaching Staff to keep them around for depth purposes.  Unfortunately, I am not sure that any of the aforementioned players will be able to stay in Pittsburgh if they struggle in 2013 like they did in 2012.

Readers: Do you like the move to bring Gay back to Pittsburgh?  How many of these three aforementioned players will be cut?

Stats Courtesy of: ESPN.com Team Page