Keenan Lewis, Dick LeBeau System Cornerbacks And Their Free Agency History

The start of 2013 NFL free agency signing period is quickly approaching and all of our eyes will be fixed on Pittsburgh Steelers unrestricted cornerback Keenan Lewis, should he not be re-signed beforehand.

If indeed Lewis is allowed to test free agency, you have to wonder how many teams will consider him a system cornerback. More specifically, a Dick LeBeau system cornerback. In LeBeau\’s years as the Steelers defensive coordinator his free agent, or released, cornerbacks have not fared well for the most part outside of Pittsburgh.

In 1997 LeBeau left Pittsburgh to become the defensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bengals and cornerback Willie Williams, the Steelers sixth-round pick in the 1993 NFL draft, left via free agency after signing a four-year, $8.7 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks. The deal reportedly included a $3 million signing bonus. Williams was the first free agent cornerback loss that had been groomed by LeBeau and he remains the only one to have good success after leaving. Williams went on to start 75 games for the Seahawks over the next seven seasons. In 2004 Williams returned to Pittsburgh and that was the same year that LeBeau returned as well. The Western Carolina product went on to play in 20 more games with the Steelers and he started 11 of them.

Although they didn\’t leave via free agency, cornerbacks Dewayne Washington and  Chad Scott were jettisoned in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Washington, who had arrived via free agency in 1998 from the Minnesota Vikings, ended up signing with Jacksonville Jaguars, where he started 16 games. In those 16 games, however, Washington struggled in man-to-man coverage and the Jaguars finished the 2004 season with the 16th-rated passing defense. Although he registered 77 tackles and 2 interceptions that season, Washington was released by the Jaguars in March of 2005. He would go on to play for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2005, but started just one game.

Scott, a cap casualty of the Steelers in 2005, signed on with the New England Patriots following his release and he spent most of the 2005 season on their injured reserve list. In 2006, his final year in the league, Scott played in 14 games, but started just 9 of them.

In 2007 there was the October release of the great Richard Colclough. I really only put this in here to ruin your weekend. Let\’s continue.

In 2009 cornerback Bryant McFadden left via free agency after agreeing to a two-year, $10 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals attempted to make a man corner out of McFadden and that didn\’t go so well. After just one disappointing season the Cardinals traded McFadden back to the Steelers during the 2010 NFL draft. McFadden played two more seasons in Pittsburgh and he started 16 games in the 2010 season that culminated with the Steelers losing to the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl.

Just last offseason, William Gay followed the same path out of Pittsburgh that McFadden did as he signed a two-year, $3.2 million, incentive laden contract with the Cardinals. At that time he was reunited with former Steelers defensive backs coach Ray Horton, who was the Cardinals defensive coordinator at the time. Gay played in all 16 games last season and started 15 of them. He recorded 57 total tackles and 2 interceptions. Gay met his playing time incentives in 2012 which triggered an escalation in his 2013 base salary. Unfortunately the Steelers former fifth-round draft pick will not get a chance to pocket that money as the Cardinals released him as a salary cap casualty on Friday.

So that\’s for the cornerbacks that left the LeBeau system, what about those that tried to leave via free agency, but wound up being re-signed?

Cornerback Deshea Townsend was allowed to test free agency twice during his career. In 2002 he was allowed to test free agency for a first time and the Patriots, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans all reportedly had interest in him. The Patriots were considered the most serious of the four teams, but he wound up re-signing a four-year $4.2 million contract with the Steelers that reportedly included a $925,000 signing bonus and $650,000 a year in playing time incentives.

Townsend played in 63 of the next 64 games for the Steelers and started 41 of them before becoming a free agent again in 2006. The Steelers fourth-round pick of the 1998 NFL Draft was again allowed to test free agency, and again the Patriots were in pursuit of his services. The Steelers reportedly stepped up their offer late and Townsend signed another four-year contract which was worth $8 million and included a signing bonus just over $2 million. He would go on to play in 60 more regular season games for the Steelers and started 34 of them. In 2010 he played sparingly for the Indianapolis Colts.

Cornerback Ike Taylor agreed to a four-year, $22.5 million extension in September of 2006 that prevented him testing the free agency market in 2007. In 2011 the Steelers again resigned Taylor following the lockout to a four-year, $28 million contract. That deal included a $7.25 million signing bonus and a $750,000 first-year roster bonus. Taylor wanted to stay in Pittsburgh all along and has really never been allowed to test free agency.

So what does the future hold now for Lewis? Will he be deemed a LeBeau system cornerback if allowed to test free agency? Will that, along with his lack of interceptions, keep his market value down?

On Thursday Lewis posted on his Facebook page that he has a new secret and that he\’s not telling a soul about it.

Lewis posted, “Good news, thank you lord, you always told me believe and keep faith and you will handle the rest. It\’s a secret, I\’m not telling nobody what it is either, just know I am about to turn up.”

Perhaps Lewis knows what really went on at Area 51. Perhaps he knows what is really inside McDonalds secret sauce, or worse, what\’s inside their chicken mcnuggets. Perhaps he knows that he is going to get a long-term deal from the Steelers prior to the start of free agency. We can only blindly speculate, but should he wind up leaving Pittsburgh, I hope he has the same success that Williams had when he left 16 years ago.

  • alex

    YES, much success for the man, here or there, he has done everything right…

    PS..there are 38 ingredients in MCnuggets…one in, dimethylpolysiloxane, which is added as an antifoaming agent..

  • Jollyrob68

    Resign him know and it takes the pressure off needing to draft a cb.

  • steeltown


  • steeltown

    Its been said the exit interview went really well.. and its been said that Lewis likes playing for Lake and wants to stay in Pittsburgh.. I hope that all adds up to Lewis signing long term and hopefully the deal isnt astronomical

    Ike is getting older.. even with Cortez looking like the real deal, we need Lewis.

    Can never have enough CB’s in todays League

  • CW

    God man, no one wants to know what’s in a McNugget. Like making laws it’s surely as disgusting as anything you can imagine.

  • SteelSpine

    There’s a message in this article that I have always agreed & said about LeBeau, & it is bigger than Keenan: There’ve been many players who we woulda never heard those players’ names again if they had gone to other teams. LeBeau has a history of being able to continue good defense despite injured pro bowlers replaced with bums, other than the first handful of games last year when that didn’t work. But overall in the past when bums were in key positions & ya’d figure we would get killed via exploited, but instead the magician LeBeau’s smoke & mirrors covered up for average players. Keenan is not a bum & that’s why I say the/my point is bigger than Keenan. Odds are Keenan simply started living up to his potential; in other words a young big fast CB who had been drafted in a high round.

    The examples DaveB gave are correct, & I could name additional positions on Steelers in the past where the players were raved about by national media but I thought were just system guys, average guys who woulda never heard their names again if they departed to other teams: Jason Gildon, Gerald Williams, & guys who did depart i.e Clark Haggens & Lee Flowers etc. And for the past many years we’ve put any bum on defensive line to fill in for injured starting DLinemen & we didn’t notice any dropoff in overall defense that game. For so many years any OLB here was automatically raved about as automatic pro-bowlers by national media. I only recall 1 OLB who wasn’t good starting for Steelers, & so I was surprised that one was ineffective (Chris Carter)(I’ll give you he was young I don’t wanna stir that hive again heheh:). The only other guy Steelers defense was not able to cover up for that I recall, has been Mundy, but that’s out of so many players we got by with on defense over the years. Even before last season I said if Mundy goes to another team you’ll never hear of that name again.

    This article refers to cornerbacks tho, so notice how Cortez Allen, Keenan Lewis, & Will Allen (tho he’s a safety) stepped right up last year. So I agree with DaveB that it’s a fair point to always wonder how much of any successful CB here has to do with our system.

  • Shannon Stephenson

    Lewis should be our #1 free agent signed period.

  • SteelSpine

    Great point. Even tho re-signing Keenan easier said than done, we have enough high-priority other position needs that we cannot afford to need to use a high pick on a CB.

  • Clint Martin

    Thats just it his game isn’t just Dick LeBeau’s that is why the secondary was so strong this year. His play along with Cortez Allen playing great allowed them to go more man to man with safety help.
    Do you remember last season losing to the Ravens at home long ball to Smith past Gay That was also man to man with safety help. The only problem Gay can’t play press at the line and Smith ran by him and Ryan Clark bit on the slant underneath.

    My point is The corners Steelers have now are better players more talent you can do more with them. I look at all of these corners, there is a list of limited talent Townsend
    McFadden, Ricardo Coclough <LOL William Gay.

  • Clint Martin

    U talkin bout your nuggets?

  • Clint Martin

    Lewis has showed playing opposite of Ike he is a better talent than alot of these guys Especially William Gay,I actually thought Lewis should have started before Gay his last year here.

  • Clint Martin

    Ricardo Sanchez Colclough what a great 2nd round pick in 2004 at least he is tearing up the Canadian football scene.

  • McDonalds secret sauce = Thousand Island Dressing, so let’s hope it’s a signing.

  • walter mason

    I think Keenan could have/would have started at least a year earlier but he was in Tomlins doghouse….remember the broken glass?

    Could the secret be he has an offer from abother team? I hope not.


  • Coclough was the personification of a combine pick.

  • Ahmad

    Hopefully this secret is a new contract with the Steelers.

  • Pete

    I’d like Lewis to stay and see him continue to develop in Pittsburgh. But if he leaves I’m comfortable with Allen and Brown developing under Lake and the ability of Lake to develop CB talent the Steelers draft. The secondary is in good hands.

  • Bob Loblaw

    At this point in the season another cannot give him an offer.