It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a situation on their hands at the cornerback position this season. Many defensive backs have made stops in Pittsburgh before moving on in their careers in the NFL and elsewhere. The most recent to do so was Brice McCain. After a year in Pittsburgh where he recorded a career high three interceptions, he moved on to the sunny skies of Miami and is currently battling for a starting position with the Dolphins.
The Steelers did not make much of an effort to retain him when the free agency market started up in the spring. This has been the case for many defensive backs that were once on the Steelers’ roster. Even though the signing of Brandon Boykin, along with adding rookies Senquez Golson and Doran Grant in the draft, added some much needed help at cornerback, the situation could have been addressed much earlier.
Here we will take a look at five cornerbacks that the Steelers could have retained in the past that may have aided their secondary in the future.
Often grouped with those associated with the Fifth Round Curse, a reference to players selected in the fifth round of the NFL draft that didn’t quite pan out as expected, Crezdon Butler was the fifth rounder of the 2010 draft. Butler was released a year later after appearing in only four games his rookie season. Over the next four years he spent time on six different teams, officially making his first three starts as a professional in 2014 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Seeing the potential Butler might possess, the Detroit Lions signed him to their offseason roster in 2015. He has made progressive strides in his new city, making an impressive one handed interception in training camp. His three forced fumbles in his career are a testament to his hard hitting ability. Had he stayed on the Steelers’ roster, he would have made a nice addition to their depth chart.
Another player selected in the fifth round of the 2009 draft, Joe Burnett looked as if he was a prime candidate to make the final roster that season. Even with an impressive preseason outing that included an interception, he would end up being a casualty of roster cuts. Eventually picked up by the New York Giants, he would not find any more success than he did with his first professional team.
When the NFL did not turn out to be his calling, Burnett traveled north of the border to play in the Canadian Football League. In his first season he would record an impressive six interceptions with the Edmonton Eskimos. 2014 would not be as successful for the defensive star, as injuries would keep him off the field for a significant amount of time. The Eskimos would release him after only recording one interception in his sophomore season.
Signed by the Calgary Stampeders soon after his release, Burnett has taken on a starter role due to injuries at the position. Seeming to be a developmental player, there is a possibility he could have been the interception machine he has been in the CFL that the Steelers have desperately needed in the past few seasons.
Sep 22, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis (28) intercepts a pass intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) during the second half of a game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints defeated the Cardinals 31-7. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Perhaps one of the most notorious players that have left the Steelers organization in free agency in recent memory, Keenan Lewis was the true definition of a developmental player turned starter. Playing sparingly until the 2012 season, where he was called upon to start in all sixteen games, he racked up an impressive 23 defended passes in his final season in Pittsburgh.
The impressive feat caught the eye of the New Orleans Saints, who jumped to sign the talented corner. Since his two years as a Saint, he has recorded six interceptions and 26 more defended passes. Had the Steelers offered Lewis the type of money they blindly gave to Cortez Allen, and let him walk instead, they would be in a very manageable situation when it came to cornerback after the loss of their veteran players.
A member of the Steelers roster in 2012, Josh Victorian was an undrafted free agent that spent most of his time on the team’s practice squad. Due to the magnitude of injuries that season, Victorian would earn his one and only start of his career in the NFL. A year later he would be out of Pittsburgh and attempting to earn a spot with the New York Giants and Detroit Lions.
2015 held the biggest opportunity of Victorian’s career when he joined the L.A. Kiss Arena Football team. Recording four interceptions in his first year in the AFL, Victorian could have proven to be an interesting depth player on the Steelers roster.
Selected in the third round of the 2011 draft, Curtis Brown was an interesting case. Rarely drafting cornerbacks in the first three rounds, the Steelers took at gamble on the defensive back and ended up rolling snake eyes. Spending three years with the team, he made very little impact for being such a high round draft pick. Brown’s career in Pittsburgh came to an unceremonious halt when he tore his ACL in the middle of the 2013 season, and was released afterwards.
After spending the 2014 season recuperating from his torn ligament, he was acquired by the New York Jets during the 2015 offseason. Obviously the Jets saw something in Brown to randomly offer him a contract after being irrelevant for a whole season of football. Is it possible that Brown could have a comeback season in New York, making the Steelers regret their decision?
Could any of these five former Steelers have made an impact on the defense had the organization decided to keep them around? It is most likely that we will never know. We will not let that keep us from speculating, though. Leave a note in the comment section as to who you think should have stayed on the team.
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