Steelers should be on the phone with CB James Bradberry
By Tommy Jaggi
The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t do enough to address the cornerback position this offseason, but James Bradberry would instantly fix that.
To the surprise of many, the Pittsburgh Steelers elected to ignore the cornerback position in the NFL Draft for the third straight year. In fact, Tre Norwood and Antoine Brooks were the only defensive backs of any kind they have taken during this span and both were late-round draft choices.
It’s not like the Steelers already have an excellent group of CBs in place. While I was thrilled that Pittsburgh was able to retain Ahkello Witherspoon on a two-year deal, the rest of the group is incredibly underwhelming.
The team signed former Bills cornerback Levi Wallace to a two-year contract this offseason, but Wallace isn’t anything particularly special. Though his career started strong as a former undrafted player back in 2018, Pro Football Focus believes he has gotten worse in each season since entering the league.
The only other viable CB option the Steelers have is Cameron Sutton. Though he was excellent as a sub-package cornerback in 2020, his play took a noticeable step back when he was asked to play on the outside last season.
Steelers must pursue Bradberry
Enter James Bradberry — a talented former Pro Bowl cornerback who was recently released by the New York Giants. At 6’1” and 211 pounds with remarkable 33 3/8” arms, you couldn’t build a better cornerback from scratch.
Bradberry was phenomenal in 2020 as he earned 3 interceptions, 18 pass defenses, and graded out as the 7th-best cornerback in the league, via PFF. Bradberry was a bit less consistent game-to-game last year, but he still raked in 4 interceptions and 17 pass defenses.
In addition to giving them another big body with ball skills on the outside, Bradberry is also a terrific athlete. He tested in the 91st percentile coming out of Samford in 2016, according to his Relative Athletic Score.
If James Bradberry was added to the mix, Pittsburgh’s secondary suddenly looks much stronger. Bradberry and Witherspoon would be their starters on the outside in base packages with Cameron Sutton and Levi Wallace rotating in for sub-package work in nickel and dime.
While adding a player of this magnitude might seem unnecessary, cornerbacks are like wide receivers: you can never have too many of them. As it stands, if the Steelers were to suffer an injury to one of their top cornerbacks, they would be forced to rely on a player like Arthur Maulet, Justin Layne, or James Pierre to step into a significant role on defense — all three of which struggled mightily in 2021.
Bradberry not only offers depth and security at the position, but he would also give them a major upgrade on the outside right now over the projected starter, Levi Wallace.
Though it seems like a Bradberry signing would strip the Steelers of all their remaining salary cap space (estimated at $12.8 million, via Over the Cap), Pittsburgh could lower his first-year cap number to make sure the team has plenty of money to sign their rookie class and to leave some extra cash in their pocket entering the 2022 season in the event of injuries.
I know the Steelers typically don’t target high-end free agents, but James Bradberry would certainly be worth their while. This would very much feel like the Joe Haden signing back in 2017. Bradberry is still in the prime of his career and would help Pittsburgh’s defense take another step forward. The front office should be on the phone with his agent immediately.