2017 Offseason Positional Review – Cornerback

The season might not quite be over for another couple of days, but 30 teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, have already hit offseason mode following their elimination, either prior to or during the playoffs. Pittsburgh got quite far this year, reaching the AFC Championship game for the first time since 2010

But before we get too deep into the offseason, it’s time to take a look at the Steelers’ roster as it appears to be shaping up as we look ahead to 2017.

As with almost every other team, the Steelers have already made some roster tweaks, signing several players to Reserve/Futures contracts, tenders, and other sorts of contract, , so here is a position-by-position look at how the team looks heading into the offseason.

Position: Cornerback

Total Positional Figure: 8

Additions: 1

Deletions: 1

Players Retained:

Ross Cockrell: It’s only been about a year and a half since the Steelers brought Ross Cockrell into the organization, but he has made major strides since then and has ascended to the top of the cornerback depth chart. He was the closest thing to a shutdown corner they had last year and he got his hands on a number of balls, though no interceptions. He’s still young and has important areas to target for improvement. Hopefully he’s not at his ceiling.

Artie Burns: Artie Burns is certainly not at his ceiling yet after his rookie season. At least he has better not be. He did come up with three interceptions and over a dozen passes defensed as a rookie. Further growth and knowledge of the defense on his part should allow the defense more flexibility in playing man coverage next year.

William Gay: He has been nothing but a trooper for the Steelers, but it’s unclear how much longer they can depend upon William Gay. They are probably hoping for Senquez Golson to step into the slot in 2017, but Gay would still have tremendous value off the bench. Otherwise, he can still contribute in the nickel.

Al-Hajj Shabazz: It’s a bit striking to see Al-Hajj Shabazz fourth on the depth chart. That kind of says everything about their depth. Shabazz might be an interesting developmental project, but I don’t want to see him coming into a game as an injury replacement.

Senquez Golson: Two years and no production for the former second-rounder. Health has eluded him, so we know very little about Senquez Golson at this point. He can’t be counted upon until he proves he can be.

Brandon Dixon: A former sixth-round pick in 2014 of the Jets, Bradon Dixon has bounced around a number of teams, but last played as a rookie. He did intercept a pass. He spent time in December on the practice squad.

Mike Hilton: Another carryover from the practice squad, Mike Hilton was signed in December after going undrafted in 2016. Signed by the Jaguars and spending some time on the Patriots’ practice squad, Hilton is a short corner, but is a player who brings experience in playing all positions in the defensive backfield during his college career.

Players Added:

Greg Ducre: Greg Ducre is one of the few players the team has signed that spent no time with them in 2016. Undrafted in 2014, he also has one interception in his career and also played in the CFL.

Players Deleted:

Justin Gilbert: The Steelers traded a sixth-round pick for Justin Gilbert, a former top-10 draft pick, but he barely got on the field. They released him earlier this offseason to get out from under his contract, but it’s apparently not out of the cards that he’s re-signed.

Offseason Strategy: This might be the prime position to address in free agency with a mid-tier free agent, in my opinion. There is virtually nothing proven here, and the closest things to that are either still growing or getting too old. There could be a day-two pick here in the draft.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi

Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.

  • Steelers12

    Sign a cb and draft a cb i say

  • falconsaftey43

    Need to bring in an experienced depth piece. Last 2 years they didnt jave any and traded for one right before season started. Not a starter, but a guy you trust to put on the field.

  • Michael Mosgrove

    the free agent cbs are not going to be cheap and the ones that are. arent good.

  • capehouse

    Are you going to sign a free agent to play 4th CB? Hopefully 5th if Golson is healthy. Doesn’t make much sense. The best way to approach depth is to target the draft. There’s tons of good CBs and OLBs that’ll fill the first 3 rounds. That should be 2 of our top 3 picks. We can address CB in free agency down the road but not until after the draft.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I’m starting to think we will draft a corner and maybe wait til training camp cuts and sign someone there, because the cheap free agent cb group is abysmal.

  • Nolrog

    Gerry Dulac is adamant that we will not go after a CB in the draft. I heartily disagree. While it’s not the need it was the last few years, we still need to improve in the secondary. Especially with Gilbert released, Gay declining and Golson a total unknown.

  • RickM

    Free agency will pretty much tell us their plans. If they do pick up a mid-tier FA corner, it will make the draft unlikely. If they don’t, they’ll address it in the draft. If I had to bet on which is more likely, I’m with you – easily the draft.

  • GoSteelerz

    You forgot Mike Hilton… On our practice squad towards the end of the year and signed to a futures contract like Dixon… Hilton projects as a nickel CB in our defense. I think he may be the answer there, but that is a projection. Right now, especially since we aren’t behind closed doors, there is no way to tell. I think we should draft at least one CB, especially one who can play some man coverage and has the flexibility to fit in the slot or play outside if need be.

  • Matthew Marczi

    You can usually find a decent depth player after the draft for a couple million.

  • LucasY59

    I was going to comment on Hilton as well, I dont have as much optimism as you, but I think all of the Futures guys (Dixon and Ducre as well as Hilton) should provide some good camp depth and competition

  • Matthew Marczi

    There are only three cornerbacks on the roster who have any meaningful playing experience. Unless I can be assured that Golson is going to have no issues, I’d like to bring somebody in who can come off the bench and give some decent snaps and not make inexperienced mistakes.

  • Rusted Out

    It’s an absolute travesty that William Gay is still a viable CB on this team. Further displaying the gross neglect and negligence of a secondary that line up in subpackage 75% of the time. Disgusting! Draft another corner by the 3rd round and/or open the checkbook and sign a starter. This secondary has been the absolute most glaring weakness on this team going on 5 years now. Make corner a bigger priority to fit today’s game!

  • Matthew Marczi

    Dulac is also adamant that Golson is going to contribute. Frankly, I hope he’s right.

  • LucasY59

    they really NEED Golson to do something, I no longer count on him, but am still hoping he can contribute

  • Matthew Marczi

    Ah yes, you’re right, I did miss him, thanks. I’ll add him in now.

  • Rusted Out

    The prototypical Steeler fan default excuse for not signing a good FA.

  • LucasY59

    its also true, if you find a good cheap FA let me know

  • Rusted Out

    How about a good free agent that they pay market value for? Hmm let me guess what you’re going to tell me next… “The Steelers typically don’t pay big name free agents” “It can’t be done, they don’t have the cap space after paying blah blah blah”

    The Steelers have an ever smaller window to win with Ben. Now is the time to mortgage the future on today. By the time this Defense is back in the top 5, Ben will be long gone. But yea, build through the draft and sign a mid level guy as usual.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    I just want to see him play!

  • LucasY59

    the Corners need some help (and what happened in the AFCCG definitely proves it)

    Burns is looking to become the best on the team (which is a pleasant surprise since he developed quickly, and can improve even more) his Athleticism should help him be scheme versatile, and ability to get INTs is a huge contribution to the D (take aways should be a #2 priority after points allowed) he also has prototypical size for the position and his length help in coverage as well as the INTs, he is not overly physical but I like his effort and willingness to try and improve in that area

    Cockrell stepped up as the #1 corner and was an asset (especially against the Bengals in the early game against AJ Green) I think there were some liabilities as well (mainly in tackling) giving 10 yd cushions is the scheme and I cant hold that against him, but still he needs to tackle the catch quickly when that happens (and the defensive scheme needs to change if the opposition is exploiting the underneath stuff) I think he could be good doing some press man stuff, and is decent as a #2 CB he also has decent length for the outside, but lacks strength (which contributes to his struggle in tackling) if he could be more physical he could keep his starting position in the future

    Gay declined from being the best CB (even though I think that was partially due to lack of talent in the group) to barely being 3rd best, I think there is a chance he declines even more (2017 will be last his last season IMO or at least the last with him on the field) I appreciate what Will has done for the team, and having him as the Vet leader of the group makes him worth keeping around

    Golson has not been able to do anything so far, but this yr they need him to contribute and I could see him overtaking Gay as the Slot corner, I am wary to count on him because of him being unavailable the last 2 seasons, but the team kept him on the roster for quite awhile this last season before they were forced to move him to IR, his production in college especially with INTs make me think that if he is able to play he could be a positive contributor to the team

    Shabazz has good size (best on the team) and could develop some more to contend for snaps on the outside (the team sees potential otherwise they wouldnt have him on the roster) his promotion to the 53 was most likely a ST/depth move, and I think even if he is just a ST guy the contributions are useful

    Dixon is a guy that could provide depth and competition at least through camp, I like his size speed and physicality, but he is most likely a similar player to Shabazz that has less of a chance of contributing, but at the least is a good to have around since the team needs help and depth at the position and he will at least provide competition

    Ducre looks to have speed and that is something else that could help on this team, he is a futures guy that is definitely a long shot but like Dixon should be a guy that can provide some depth and competition

    Hilton is a slot guy (and with Gay declining and Golson a uncertainty) the team needs some inside cover guys, I dont see him as a strong candidate to make the team, but like the other futures guys he will be useful in camp

    as far as adding help to the group, I think they should look to the draft (especially since there is good talent available there) adding a FA is a possibilty, but other than a depth player the FAs will be very expensive (and therefore very unlikely for the Steelers to bring in)

    draft prospects I really like are Jourdan Lewis (could help in the slot or possibly on the outside as well, and would also do well at creating TOs) Sidney Jones (I think he could be a better 1st rd pick than Burns was *at a later pick) Tre White (very similar to Lewis) Quincy Wilson (similar to Jones) are players I would be happy with if they were taken with one of the top 2 picks (and I think helping the pass coverage is important enough that using a early pick would be good idea) guys like Adoree’ Jackson, Chidobe Awuzie, Fabian Moreau, Cam Sutton, Dwayne Thomas, Howard Wilson, and Marquez White could be good additions after the first two rds as well (there are others as well these are just the ones I like)

    as far as FAs my pipe dream addition would be Tru Johnson, but the realistic addition I like best is Kayvon Webster, he could be slot depth and also a good ST contributor (and like Kozora pointed out he is good friends with AB which might have some impact in the team bringing him in) I think a contract would be very affordable for Webster

    one more thing is that bringing back Justin Gilbert would be something I would do IF he is willing to sign a non guaranteed minimum contract, I’ve come to an understanding on his release and keeping him at the original cap cost he wouldve had was too much, but bringing him back to try and earn a spot (that he would truly have to earn) is a good idea IMO, at worst he would be a no risk cut at the end of camp and at best, a player that had great physical talent and was forced to work for his spot and could contribute to the roster (there is a good chance he would fail to develop, but with a minimum contract that is a risk worth taking)

  • LucasY59

    market value for FA CBs is not cheap, I would say 10 million is a good estimate for a FA starter

    IF they were able to find a value pick like the Chargers did with Casey Hayward last yr then I would be all for it, but that is not very common and the Bolts got very lucky on a deal that ended up giving them excellent value

    a redemption project like DJ Hayden might be a value signing but with the failure of the attempt to do the same with Justin Gilbert makes me think that could be a bad idea

    Prince Amukamara or Morris Claiborne might be a bit less expensive, but again are not a for sure signing to fix the secondaries problems at Corner

    Trumaine Johnson, Stephon Gilmore, Dre Kirkpatrick and AJ Bouye would help but Im not even sure if all of them will become available, since the franchise tags have not been designated yet and since all of them could be candidates for the tag they would also demand close to the tag amount on the market so they are closer to a 14 million price tag

    the Steelers Could sign one, but they would not be able to sign any other FAs unless you want them to get rid of Bell and possibly AB

  • Rusted Out

    Where are you getting these 10-14 million dollar figures for a mid level corner? As one of the best RB’s in the game, Leveon would only make 12 with a franchise tag. No wonder you believe they can’t sign a guy. Here is a snipit of the BEST corner to hit the market in recent years.

    “Norman will receive $50 million guaranteed, including a $15 million signing bonus. The Redskins had just $12.1 million in cap space to work with prior to the acquisition, but Norman will have an $8 million cap hit in 2016 – including a $5 million fully-guaranteed base salary. Norman’s 2017 base salary of $16.5 million is fully guaranteed with an additional $500,000 in per-game roster bonuses during the final four years of the deal. He will carry a $20 million cap hit next year as a result, which will be the highest on the team in 2017. The expiring deals of wide receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson and linebacker Perry Riley Jr. will free up some money, but the Redskins will still have to juggle Norman’s salary with two possible long-term deals in quarterback Kirk Cousins and tight end Jordan Reed.”

    I understand that an all-pro like Norman may be out of reach, but it should never be off the table, and it almost always is with the Steelers. Another good example of this is when the Pats signed Revis. Yea they won the SB that year also. I am suggesting that they go out and get a legit starting corner and forgo all their low-mid level dabbling in the FA market on players such as Gilbert that contribute little to nothing to the team. They CAN sign a CB and still retain AB and Bell.

  • LucasY59

    you kinda contradict yourself, you say go get a mid range corner (I made two suggestions for that type of player in Amukamara and Claiborne) and then say they need a Starter that can help the team (they already have a mid range guy in Cockrell) so if they want a Starter that can actually help, they will be paying upwards of 10 million

    yes they can build the contracts to make it so the 1st year is affordable, but they would then get into salary cap trouble in the future (which is something they are just now getting out of from their last SB team)

    I understand and somewhat agree that the window to win a SB with Ben is closing, but I dont think they need to do something that is irresponsible or could harm the team in the future to do so

  • Michael Mosgrove

    right. ive made 2600 comments on here. have any of those ever made me sound like a typical fan? i hardly doubt it. fact is this:
    12 mill on ab
    12 mill on bell
    10 mill on tuitt
    5.5 million on draft class.

    tell me what room we have for a fa.

  • Rusted Out

    Ur right. It can’t be done.

  • Rusted Out

    I didn’t “kinda” contradict anything. The range on the corners you suggested are of your opinion, but i would agree Amukamara and Claiborne are roughly mid level guys (both are better than Cockrell IMO). As I posted, Josh Norman’s 2016 cap hit is 8 mil, so if arguably the best corner in the league’s cap hit is 8 mil, where in the world do you get 10 for lesser talent??? We ARE talking short-term here. Bring in a merc to win now. It’s been done all across the league with varying degrees of success.

    Whether you agree of not, the writing is on the wall for BEN. 3 years MAX with him at the helm, so signing a big name now before Ben hangs up the cleats is far from irresponsible. It would be irresponsible for them not to pay for a CB. Let’s face it, by the time Burns develops into a shutdown corner (if he does achieve that), our franchise guy will be retired. The bottom line is that they must sign a big name at either CB or OLB, and/or hit bigtime on a rookie sensation at both positions, or a combo of the two.

  • Steve

    Green cost the Steelers over 5 mil, which is not chump change.

  • Steve

    Not good to count on guys that have never did anything for you. Better to go on without and if they later give something in return, you will be joyed.

  • Rusted Out

    I think Green was a good signing. The Steelers hand was forced with the surprise retirement of Heath. Really tough break on the concussions for all parties involved though. I’d definitely rate Green on the higher end of a mid level signing (talent wise). Yes, 5 mil is not chump change, but I think we can agree that there is a huge gap between that and the 10-14 mil for a mid-level corner that my friend Lucas here is suggesting. It’s also important to note that Green only counted for less than 2.5 mil against the cap this year. 5 mil is guaranteed with a 5 mil signing bonus.

    There are so many ways to pay players, restructure contracts, add bonuses, and maneuver financially to get under the cap, that the Steelers could find a way to sign one big name. I just get so frustrated when fans parrot the rhetoric that the Steelers aren’t big players in free agency. Yes, I know the Steelers are highly unlikely to do it, but it doesn’t make it right. The clock is ticking on Big Ben, and they are maybe one or two pieces away from another SB IMO.

  • capehouse

    Sure but are you going to sign a bench CB early on in free agency? No, probably not. You get a CB in the draft, and if you’re not happy with your depth after the draft then you can find a cheap bench CB that has experience. You’re certainly not going to spend a lot of money when your top 3 or 4 spots are spoken for. You get a cheap vet that’s easy to cut.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Or you sign somebody who can start in the slot, who plays about 70% of the time.