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.