By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers have their work cut out for them coming off consecutive non-winning seasons. It takes elbow grease to get from 8-8 to a contender, as everybody knows, of course, but this offseason, the issue is more complicated than simply improving, due to some uncommon circumstances.
A very large sticking point with many fans in recent years has been the underperformance of veteran players as it relates to their bulky contracts. Nobody still on the books for 2014 has been a better example of that than cornerback Ike Taylor.
While dealing with a smorgasbord of injuries, when LaMarr Woodley has been on the field, he’s held his own. On the other hand, Taylor was responsible for allowing more yards in coverage than any cornerback in the league in 2013, surrendering over 1000 yards on his own based on Pro Football Focus’ data. He also allowed 71 receptions on 113 targets for a reception rate of nearly 63 percent.
Taylor gave up the seventh-most yards per snap in coverage while giving up a reception every 8.6 snaps in coverage—tied for 13th-worst ratio. He was also heavily targeted, being thrown at once every 5.4 snaps in coverage, tied for 15th-most often. His six touchdowns allowed with no interceptions helps contribute to his 110.06 quarterback rating against.
Even worse, Taylor ranked 67th in tackling efficiency, combining to miss 13 tackles between the run and the pass. Tackling efficiency is the total number of tackles made per tackles missed. Taylor made 5.7 tackles per miss. Keenan Lewis made 26 tackles per miss, the most efficient in the league.
Now, Taylor signed a four-year, $28 million contract, the last year of which is this year. It’s fairly widely accepted already that his level of performance doesn’t justify the nearly $12 million cap hit he’s set to cost the team in 2014.
Accordingly, it’s also been widely accepted that the team will likely approach Taylor at some point during the offseason about accepting a pay cut. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette went so far as to say that he expects Taylor to be released if he’s not accepting of a pay cut.
Two years ago, Casey Hampton was willing to accept a $3 million pay cut in order to stay with the team for what proved to be one more season. Last year, James Harrison refused to accept a pay cut of an undisclosed amount, which led to him being released and presumably accepting a lesser contract with a division rival.
Of course, Taylor is not the average football player, as most who follow the team should know. He has a far more personal relationship with his team and his team owners than the average player. The very deep admiration that he has for Dan Rooney and the rest of the Rooney family is evident.
It’s hard to imagine, then, that he wouldn’t be amenable to helping the team out when a few million in cap space could go a long way. The Steelers fairly compensated him throughout his career, and it’s likely his turn to return the favor.
Outside of a pay cut, we have also previously discussed the possibility of a Hines Ward-style ‘retirement’ package, which is essentially an extension that adds no monetary value to the current contract.
Taylor is a prideful player who may never believe that he can’t play at a high level. Additionally, he also has leverage given the critical lack of depth at the position—and not just depth, but size. Given those facts, I think the extension theory certainly has legs. Either way, I would be surprised if Taylor plays this year with a base salary of $7 million.
Previous Articles In This Series
Steelers Offseason Priorities – A Primer
Steelers Offseason Priorities – Finding An Offensive Line Coach
Steelers Offseason Priorities – What To Do With Woodley And Worilds
Steelers Offseason Priorities – Replenishing The WR Depth Chart
Steelers Offseason Priorities – Riding The The Defensive End Carousel
Steelers Offseason Priorities – Extending Ben Roethlisberger