Pros and cons of Steelers decision to release CB Ahkello Witherspoon
By Tommy Jaggi
After selecting two talented boundary cornerbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft, we weren't surprised to learn that the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to part ways with cornerback, Ahkello Witherspoon. On May 17th, the veteran CB was officially released from the team, and the once-murky outlook at the cornerback position now becomes a bit more clear.
Though this wasn't an unexpected move, it's worth wondering whether or not it was completely necessary or what Pittsburgh's other options might have been. With that being said, let's break down the pros and cons of releasing Witherspoon.
Pros of releasing Ahkello Witherspoon
Obviously, the biggest positive that comes from releasing Ahkello Witherspoon is the cap savings. Witherspoon was set to have a salary cap number of just over $5.48 million this year, and the Steelers will instantly save $4 million of that with his release from the team, via Over the Cap.
This is money Pittsburgh could put toward signing edge depth or perhaps finding an experienced slot cornerback who would mesh better with the Steelers current roster construction. Witherspoon's release also makes it a pretty safe bet that Joey Porter Jr. will see the field sooner rather than later, and that fellow rookie Cory Trice Jr. is more likely to stick around and carve out some sort of role.
With essentially having a team full of long, boundary cornerbacks, the Steelers got out of the contract of a player who can't stay healthy and wasn't very good when he did play in 2022.
Cons of releasing Ahkello Witherspoon
Not everything is positive when it comes to the decision to part ways with Witherspoon. Though he didn't have a great season in 2022, he was also dealing with soft tissue injuries -- primarily a severe hamstring pull that kept him out of action for much of the season.
If we go back and look at the final stretch of his 2021 season, Witherspoon was actually very impressive. During his first season with the Steelers, Witherspoon allowed just 6.3 yards per target and surrendered just a 35.1 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
In both 2020 with the 49ers, Witherspoon graded out as the 6th-best cornerback in the league, and in 2021 with the Steelers, his 75.8 overall grade was good for 13th-best, per Pro Football Focus. Despite a down year plagued with injuries, Witherspoon had a chance to return to form in the prime of his career in 2023.
Whether you were a fan of the decision to cut Ahkello Witherspoon or not, this was probably the correct move, considering the current roster construction at the position and the new talent on the team. The Pittsburgh Steelers are hoping that their new-look cornerback room in 2023 will be stronger than the one we saw last year.