Steelers: How big of a gamble was the Brandon Boykin trade?

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When the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent cornerback Brice McCain to their roster before the start of the 2014 season, many believed him to be nothing more than a camp body who had no chance of making the final roster. If they could have caught a glimpse of what would transpire in the regular season, they would have been sorely mistaken in their assumptions.

With injuries to Ike Taylor, and the eventual benching of Cortez Allen, the Steelers’ secondary depth would be called upon to make plays on defense. Starting in ten games total last season, McCain recorded three interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown, on his way to reviving his career in Pittsburgh after not meeting expectations as a Houston Texan.

McCain success with the Steelers caught the eye of the Miami Dolphins, who jumped at the opportunity to sign the veteran. On the first day of free agency, he signed to his new team on a two-year deal with $5.5 million. Not too shabby for someone who was barely making a million the year before.

The Steelers are presented with a similar situation this season, as well. Sending a conditional fifth round draft pick to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for cornerback Brandon Boykin, Pittsburgh receives a talented defensive back to add to their roster after the loss of Taylor, McCain, and rookie Senquez Golson, who is debating on if he should forgo his rookie season to have shoulder surgery.

The conditional fifth round draft pick becomes a fourth rounder if Boykin appears in 60% of defensive snaps this season. This will most likely occur since the cornerback position is lacking experienced depth at the position. Boykin is, quite possibly, the most talented cornerback on the roster at this point.

The question is, if the Steelers are unable to retain Boykin after 2015, was trading a fourth round pick worth a player who could be snatched up by another team if he finds much success with his new team? There is always the possibility that he could falter, but, if McCain’s stint in Pittsburgh is any indication, placing a talented player in a situation where they are required to perform well can produce positive results.

Going back the past four years, the Steelers fourth round draft picks have been Martavis Bryant, Shamarko Thomas, Landry Jones, Alameda Ta’amu, and Cortez Allen. Ta’amu is the only player selected in the fourth not on the roster after being released by the team when he racked up five more felonies than he did sacks in his rookie year.

Out of a future Pro Bowl receiver, an unproven starting safety, a third string quarterback who has not been called upon to appear in a regular season game, and a cornerback who is getting back on his feet after having a poor year, the Steelers have not done terrible when selecting athletes in the fourth round. If Boykin excels in 2015, the organization must do what it can to resign Boykin to a long-term contract.

Other Steelers such as Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, and Steve McLendon are up for contract extensions before the start of the 2016 season. Depending on the cap situation, there may not be enough money to spread around when it comes to resigning Boykin after players who have made contributions to the team for multiple seasons have been offered contracts.

Depending on the growth of the secondary position, resigning Boykin could be of low importance when the time comes to do so. Allen has the potential to take the lead position on the Steelers’ depth chart, and defensive backs like Doran Grant, Antwon Blake, and Golson (in the off-chance he does not need surgery) could step up and prove they can handle the tasks of holding down the cornerback position.

It could also come down to Boykin being offered money that the Steelers simply could not offer him. If he has another season where he records six interceptions, like he did in 2013, he will be a hot commodity when it comes to the start of free agency next spring. Boykin is an unrestricted free agent, so the Steelers do not have the opportunity to match any offers made by other teams.

Did the Steelers give up too much in the long run to possibly only have a talented player on their roster for only a year? As the season progresses we will see how well the Steelers gamble pays off. For now, they have a talented player in their secondary, something they seriously lacked in the 2014 season.

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Jun 17, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles defensive back Brandon Boykin (22) runs drills during minicamp at The NovaCare Complex. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports