Kevin Colbert Says Team Couldn\’t Fit CB Keenan Lewis Into Their Structure

During the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers had a big decision to make as to whether or not to re-sign cornerback Keenan Lewis, who was an unrestricted free agent following the 2012 season. They chose against doing so and Lewis wound up signing a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints.

Now that the news has broke that cornerback Cortez Allen needed knee surgery Friday morning that should only sideline him for a few more weeks, you are starting to hear fans mumble about the Steelers decision to not bring back Lewis.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was asked about that decision Friday morning on 970 ESPN Radio.

“Keenan had a good season for us,” said Colbert. “He had several PBU\’s (pass breakups) – he didn\’t get the interceptions he wanted, but he had a productive year and we anticipated his market going at least where it ended up going for him and we knew we couldn\’t fit that into our current structure.

“We coupled that with the anticipation of Cortez Allen being a pretty good player here for us. Unfortunately he\’s got a little bit of a knee deal that\’s slowing him down here and that makes you a little uneasy, because the guy you\’re counting on to be that starter, he might not get to earn that spot for a couple more weeks. So we got to wait and see where that\’s going top go, but that all played into making that decision.”

So how is Lewis doing with the Saints since signing with them? According to their defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, great.

“I\’m so excited about Keenan Lewis — everything about him since the day we signed him,” Ryan said this week, according to Mike Triplett of The Times-Picayune. “He\’s got so much ability. The sky is the limit for this guy. He\’s going to be fantastic for us. We\’re so excited about him. He\’s smart, he\’s tough, he\’s long. And he\’s a local hero (from O.P. Walker High School). You\’ve got to love this guy.

“In my opinion, I honestly feel we got the best free agent out there on defense.”

While we will have to wait and see if indeed Lewis was the best defensive free agent out there during the offseason, there is no denying he turned the corner last season with the Steelers. Outside of not having any interceptions, he was fairly solid against both the pass and the run. The Steelers just couldn\’t afford him based on the other needs the team had.

Now, with Allen down, the Steelers can\’t look back. Young cornerbacks Curtis Brown and Josh Victorian should benefit in practice from the extra reps and hopefully rookie Terry Hawthorne and third-year cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke can return soon from their injuries in order to fight for a spot on the 53 man roster.

  • mem359

    As other people have pointed out, it is tough when Lewis was giving a home-town discount, and it wasn’t with the Steelers.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I’m calling BS. And here’s why…

    They could’ve extended Keenan 2 years ago. They chose to wait. His price went up. THEN they couldn’t afford him? Even Lewis said, “They made a mistake in not extending me before.” Once his price went up and other teams started calling, then he considered his other options, and chose to go home.

    We’ve got $4.5 million in cap space right now. (Even more if you subtract out William Gay who we wouldn’t have re-signed.) We could’ve easily fit his first year in and still had money left over to extend/add/emergency/etc.

    If we need money next year, perhaps Colbert should consider the cuttable contracts of a couple of veterans who are in their twilight years (Polamalu, Ike, Clark). Perhaps he should’ve drafted Phillip Thomas FS instead of Landry Jones QB in the 4th round, and given himself that option. Don’t blame that on structure.

    The problem was Tomlin didn’t “like” Keenan Lewis and let his personal feelings effect his judgement on talent assessment. Just like he lets his “love” for Willie Gay affect his talent assessment in the other direction. Richard Sherman (CB Seahawks) said Lewis is one of the best CBs in the league right now. And I believe Keenan still has upside.

    It’s okay if you make a mistake, Colbert. Just admit it. And let’s move forward.

  • dennisdoubleday

    Thanks, Captain Hindsight. He did nothing before last year to indicated that he MERITED an extension. Sometimes you gamble and lose, sometimes you win.

  • rn

    I was with you until you started making stuff up about tomlin

  • JohnnyV1

    At 5yrs $25.5 million, there is just no explanation Colbert could provide that would justify his statement “we couldn’t fit that into our current structure”. It’s complete BS. We’re not talking Mike Wallace’s crazy money from the Dolphins, they had to overpay. We’re talking a very manageable salary. You build a team with young talented guys. Listen to Carnell Lake’s recent comments, he’s not happy letting starters go like that and knows it was wrong. Just be honest, or don’t say anything at all. You’re not talking to Cleveland fans here, we’re Steeler’s fans, we live, eat and breath this!

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    You do realize having a franchise quarterback does cost money and pretty much a third of our whole salary cap for this team? We are in NO situation to gamble. Ravens, Patriots, Colts (pre-manning), and Packers all faced difficult decisions. That’s just the whole financial game. Keenan Lewis said “they made a mistake” well, if you had showed up a while ago and played like how you were supposed to be, it would never had been a “mistake”. It takes two to tango. Keenan can live it all up he want in New Orleans, we have Ike Taylor who has same body conditioning as Darrell Green and Cortez Allen, we are still getting better. We are STILL contending for playoff, will Saints?

    You tell me. Sorry for the rant, but I just disagree with you.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    You know you always look at 2 years wide of salary map? Yes map, chances are we wouldn’t have afford the followingly players; Ziggy Hood, Heath Miller, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Manny Sanders, Ike Taylor, or Ramon Foster and they all are cnsidered major contributors.

    That’s why we got to look forward, not in present. Sir, that is why Keenan Lewis is not on team. Of course Carnell Lake disagree, he never played with a true franchise quarterback so he’d never got to know what it was like. It may be wrong for us to let him go, momentarily only because of the situation we are now but looking at big picture it was quite easy.

  • walter mason

    Well he was in Tomlins doghouse and that kept him on the bench. Remember the glass breaking incident? He was punished for the next 2 years.

    Lewis finally got his chance to play and IMO was the Steelers Most Valuable Player in 2012. Its a shame but Lewis acted like a juvenile one day and it cost him big. Did Lewis have a chip on his shoulder? Our loss, Saints gain.

  • rn

    He looked awful in every opportunity to see the field before the last two seasons, that’s not Tomlin’s fault. Lewis showed extreme immaturity in that denver preseason game, that’s not tomlin either. Lewis didn’t show anything until it was his contract year and that’s why he wasn’t a candidate to be extended earlier in his career. I refuse to believe the steelers let go of a valuable piece simply because he wasn’t liked by a coach.

  • StrengthOfVictory

    It wasn’t Keenan Lewis that made our secondary. It was Lake. And with Lewis saying the Steelers made a “mistake?” That’s pride. One good season, and suddenly he’s hot sh**? Don’t get me wrong, he played well, but our secondary is about more than one player. Keenan wanted to go to NO. And he did. Steelers didn’t want to get in a bidding war for him. So they didn’t.

    Saints will have an “improved” secondary with Lewis. The Steelers will still have a great one without him. You tell me who made the right call.

  • walter mason

    Maybe but it sure looked to me that Tomlin took a long time to forget that incident.

  • Superdriller316

    First off, Lewis came out and said, he wouldn’t have took an extension 2 years ago. He wanted paid like a starter and not a nickel back.

    Knocking balls down doesn’t give us the ball. Allen makes turnovers, Lewis didn’t.

    Gay can blitz, catch the ball, and in a pinch, can play safety too.

  • woundedvet

    William Gay? Hahah, Oh boy. And you implied Gay is a better player than Lewis now, but Lewis is starter material, Gay isnt.

  • woundedvet

    Yes Keenan took long to develop but thats called a late bloomer. Keenan last year was a real dandy, & entering his prime now. We developed him on our (Steelers’) dime. It stinks. But I do agree is some hindsight being 20/20 in there.

  • walter mason

    But why did Keenan want to leave so badly?

  • Tom oneal

    Great ? Are you picking your nose?


    I’m guessing the Steelers are wanting to extend Sanders, Allen, and Pouncey here pretty soon. I liked Lewis, but the Steelers can’t sign everyone. Hopefully it turns out for the best.

  • Steelers4Ever

    The Steelers build through the draft.. the key to that being successful is keeping the right draft pics as they develop… Keenan Lewis was the right draft pic to keep, it would have solidified their starting CB’s for years when Ike is gone… How long it took him to develop and the growing pains he went through the first few seasons are irrelevant… He rose above and beyond that phase and proved he was becoming the player and person they drafted him to be. They “chose” not to keep him, they could have worked it out if they truly wanted to.

    It’s done, now they need to work with they hand they have dealt themselves and hopefully the guy’s behind Cortez develop sooner than later. They have the time, lets see how much they take advantage of it.

  • Ben Anderson

    Is it just me, or is Rob Ryan giving you a glowing testimonial and endorsement the kiss of death?

  • woundedvet

    Hahah. Should not believe believe everything that comes out of coaches mouths especially the Ryan family.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I’ve been a fan of Keenan from day one. I’ve been a critic of Willie Gay from day one. Don’t call someone Captain Hindsight unless you know what you’re talking about.

    I agree he didn’t show his true potential unless last year. The question is why? Why didn’t he get on the field sooner? Why didn’t he produce sooner? I believe the coaches made a mistake. You may feel it is impossible for Tomlin or LeBeau to do any wrong but I believe they make errors/mis-judgements just like everyone else. And I think they made one with Lewis. He made a couple errors early on, and rather than letting him play through it, they benched him.

    I agree that sometimes you gamble and lose and other times you gamble and win. In this case the gamble was not whether or not to “pay” him earlier. But whether or not to “play” him earlier.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    You must not follow the Steelers very closely. Do a little research on the Keenan Lewis “personal foul – followed by broken glass incident” and listen to Tomlin’s comments afterwards. Then come back and post.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    That’s not entirely accurate. Lewis did not look any worse than Willie Gay who was constantly beat like a drum in both the passing game and the run game. But Tomlin had no problem playing Gay. Why is that? It’s because Gay is smart and responsible. He always knows where he’s supposed to be and what he’s supposed to do. The problem is he doesn’t have the physical ability to get the job done. Lewis was the opposite and Tomlin CHOSE to sit Lewis rather than let him work through those issues. That is Tomlin’s fault.

    As for Lewis’ improved performance the past two years. It magically coincided with Carnell Lake’s arrival. That is what Lewis credits with his improvement. And I agree. IMO, Tomlin has a severe weakness in his player development abilities. I’m not dismissing Lewis of all blame. He squandered a good opportunity to take a starting job if he wouldn’t have made so many mistakes. But Tomlin mis-assessed Keenan’s abilities big time the first two years.

    We’ll see how well Willie Gay defends passes this year. And compare it to how well Lewis does in New Orleans. And see how Tomlin likes that.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Please find that quote on Lewis. I don’t remember a flat out refusal two years ago.

    I do remember him saying, “The Steelers made a mistake in not extending me earlier.”

    That leads me to believe he was at least willing to extend at that point.

    But regardless, the amount he ended up signing for is very reasonable and manageable. As JohnnyV1 posted below.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    Ben’s cost is more like a fifth of our cap (not a third). But you are right, that paying a franchise QB forces you into some very difficult decisions. In my opinion, you do not let a young fast physical CB with upside walk away for $5 million per year. Especially if you’re spending big bucks to hang onto older veterans who are past their primes, and possibly in their final year(s).

    Ike Taylor is probably my favorite Steeler. And I agree his conditioning is phenomenal. But from a business standpoint, I’d rather pay Keenan $5 million than Ike $8 million.

    And if Keenan had showed up earlier he might’ve commanded $7 million a year. Mike Wallace showed up way early and look what happened with him. The point is you can’t keep everybody. And I would let a lot of other players go before I let Lewis go.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I couldn’t state this any better if I had 10 paragraphs. So I’ll just say “Amen”.

  • StarSpangledSteeler

    I think that’s the point that most people are missing. You don’t just find another Keenan Lewis in the draft every year. 6’0″ 205, fast, physical as hell. If he was polished coming out of college he would have been a 1st rounder. Look at Ike Taylor. Same situation. These mid round guys take time. If you’re lucky enough to eventually get them to develop, you don’t just let them walk. Especially for $5 million a year.

  • woundedvet

    Good point! We got Keenan later in draft because physical tools but needed mental required a couple years. Now he’s gone because steelers did not offer as much as Saints, & Saints $5mil/yr is not too much. Wish I could believe we’ll re-sign Cortez but theres no reason to believe it.

  • Alexander Sebastian Heath

    After bad contracts with Troy Polamalu (he’s elite but effeciency of him being on field vs injuries), willie colon, and chris kemoeatu. I can’t blame them for being super-cautious.

  • Richard Cetrone

    That’s always a possibility. That’s exactly why the Steelers cut Johnny Unitas back in the day. Letting go of Lewis and not resigning Max Starks will come back and haunt this team big time this season.

  • Wesley Hawkins


  • Wesley Hawkins

    If we struggle in coverage just keep Troy back and play a 2 deep Tampa 2

  • WillySteel

    I’m not so sure about “great” SOV. Keenan Lewis looks like he’s improving more so down in N.O. From what I read, he is giving Drew Brees fits and that says a lot if he is knocking down passes from probably the most accurate QB in the league.

    I have a different take on the Allen/Lewis comparison though. The argument against Lewis was successful because he was facing No. 2 receivers. These will be the same receivers that Tez will be covering so pardon me if I’m not jumping on the wagon just yet. Keenan will be playing Ike’s role in N.O. and looking at their schedule, he’s definitley got his work cut out for him facing Fitz, Dez, B. Marshall, Julio, Roddy, VJax and Steve Smith (twice a year). IMO, I think we’ll fair better not because of the talent, but because of the weaker passing teams we’ll face. I think the only challenges will be playing against the Lions (Megatron) and the Packers (Aaron Rodgers and the entire WR core). All of the other teams don’t have true game breakers at WR. If Lewis plays well against the competition, he’ll have to be mentioned as one of the top CB’s in the league IMO.

    Also, no Lewis didn’t register any picks, but looking back at the games, seems that many of his break ups came on third down. No it wasn’t a turnover, but it was a turnover on downs. With the Saints, he’ll be playing more man and press, which he was really effective at when we allowed him to play that.

    I just think we jumped the gun on letting the guy walk. Seems like a hard worker who is just starting to reach his potential.

  • Superdriller316

    I would but this site won’t allow the link to be posted