The Pittsburgh Steelers offseason continues on and with the 2013 NFL combine starting this week we will continue on with our breakdown of the free agents as we inch closer towards the start of free agency. Next up on the list of unrestricted free agents is cornerback Keenan Lewis.
Player: Keenan Lewis
Experience: 4 Years
Free Agent Status: Unrestricted
2012 Salary Cap Hit: $1,260,000
2012 Season Breakdown: Lewis, a restricted free agent last offseason, finally got a chance to start opposite Ike Taylor in 2012 after William Gay was allowed to leave via free agency and he did not disappoint. Lewis showed his toughness way back in training camp as a played through a shoulder injury that would have given second-year cornerback Cortez Allen a chance to get his reps. Lewis won the job out-right and without questions.
Seeing the field was nothing new for Lewis in 2012 as he played outside in 2011 when the Steelers used their nickel package. There were concerns about Lewis, however, heading into 2012 as he had shown some uneven play the season prior, especially against the run. The Oregon State product answered those concerns last season as he played the run much better than he did the season before.
Coverage wise Lewis failed to record an interception in 2012 but his physical style and ability to break on the ball resulted in him finishing second in the league in passes defensed.
Lewis allowed 10 receptions on 13 targets in the first two games of the season, but quickly put those games behind him. The Week 7 game against the Cincinnati Bengals was perhaps the one that really established him as a starting cornerback in the league as he defensed two passes in that game and prevented touchdown pass to wide receiver A.J. Green when he read the play and stayed true to his cover-3 responsibilities. That one play was a key turning point in the Steelers win.
Lewis was not without faults last season as he still must work on becoming a better tackler moving forward. At times he will go too high or attempt to tackle with his shoulder instead of wrapping up like he should. He also finished the season tied for second on the team in penalties with 8, 5 of which were for pass interference, 2 for holding and 1 for illegal use of the hands. It should be noted, however, that one of those penalties against the New York Giants was a phantom call and after that Week 9 game he wasn\'t flagged for pass interference the rest of the season.
Lewis also needs to become more opportunistic as his lack of interceptions is starting to become troublesome. He has recorded just one so far in his NFL career and has been thrown at more than 160 times.
Free Agency Outlook: Lewis will likely be allowed to test free agency when it begins to establish his market value. The only thing that could possibly keep his value held down is his lack of interceptions and the fact that several teams might perceive him as a system only cornerback. That being said, a few more teams will be switching to a 3-4 defense in 2013 with one of those teams being the Cleveland Browns under the guidance of new defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who was the Steelers defensive backs coach when Lewis was drafted. Lewis is far from being the top free agent cornerback on the market this offseason, but I suspect a few teams will kick his tires just the same.
The Steelers obviously want to re-sign Lewis, but they will not get in a bidding war for him. Lewis undoubtedly would like to stay in Pittsburgh with Carnell Lake, who should get a ton of credit for his turnaround. The guaranteed money and structure needed to retain Lewis will be a huge factor in whether or not he is re-signed. If the Steelers can sign him at an average yearly value of under $7 million, I like the chances of him being retained. It only takes one team, however, to overpay for his services, and I think the answer will come by the end of March.
At this point in time I would say that the Steelers have a 65% chance at re-signing him and I hope they do. Perhaps a four-year deal totaling out at around $25 million or so. Keep your fingers crossed.
Other 2012 Steelers Free Agent Player Analysis
Charlie Batch - Unrestricted Free Agent
Casey Hampton - Unrestricted Free Agent
Plaxico Burress - Unrestricted Free Agent
Larry Foote - Unrestricted Free Agent
Byron Leftwich - Unrestricted Free Agent
Will Allen - Unrestricted Free Agent
Max Starks - Unrestricted Free Agent
Greg Warren - Unrestricted Free Agent
Leonard Pope - Unrestricted Free Agent
Brandon Johnson - Unrestricted Free Agent
Rashard Mendenhall - Unrestricted Free Agent
Ramon Foster - Unrestricted Free Agent
Doug Legursky - Unrestricted Free Agent
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