Labriola: Steelers Could Be Open To Bringing Back CB Justin Gilbert

The Pittsburgh Steelers waived cornerback Justin Gilbert this past week and the former first round draft pick has since cleared waivers and is thus now a free agent.

While Gilbert is currently no longer on the Steelers roster, Bob Labriola of steelers.com recently wrote that we just might not have seen the last of him in Pittsburgh and that the team is not opposed to bringing him back to compete for a roster sport.

“They have not closed the door on Gilbert’s return, but it would have to be at a lesser price than $2.2 million for 2017,” Labriola wrote in his latest Asked and Answered post.

Even though we found out after Gilbert was waived this past week that none of the money he was scheduled to earn in 2017 as part of his final contract year was guaranteed as was long believed, it was evidently too much to warrant carrying him throughout the offseason. The Steelers, however, wasted no time in cutting him loose on Monday, the first day of waivers for 2017.

Part of me thinks there’s more to the story than just his scheduled 2017 salary when it comes to Gilbert being waived so early and perhaps something will surface related to that in the coming weeks.

During a November interview with Labriola, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Gilbert is still “very much” in the team’s plans moving forward.

“You often cannot see it, because of the nature of position he’s in. He’s the No. 4 cornerback right now,” Tomlin said at the time. “The fourth corner is primarily a special-teamer until something happens to one of three guys, and then the fourth corner is playing about 45 snaps a game. I routinely have that conversation with him, and I’ll tell Steelers Nation that.

“His progress has been very good. He’s improving every day. He’s getting the detail required to be a positive contributor to our efforts. If anything happens to one of three guys, and that’s the interesting thing about the fourth corner position, he can become an every-down football player. And the same thing could occur with Justin. He’s been working diligently on a daily basis, and when he gets an opportunity I’m sure he’ll be excited to show the people what he’s capable of.”

Immediately after uttering those words about Gilbert, Tomlin listed the cornerback as one of the Steelers seven inactives for the team’s Week 16 game against the Baltimore Ravens. It’s worth noting, however, that Gilbert did not practice all week ahead of that game because of an illness.

After seeing the bulk of his 2016 playing time on defense during the Steelers Week 4 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Gilbert barely sniffed the field the remainder of the season outside of playing some special teams.

It goes without saying that if Gilbert is ultimately re-signed in the coming weeks and months it will be for the NFL minimum for his accrued years. Personally, I will be surprised if that ultimately happens, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t or won’t.

  • WreckIess

    I thought about this when we first waived him, but thought I was stupid for thinking this. It makes some sense to bring him back to maybe a two year deal with and not have to be on the hook for the 2.2 mil. Obviously I have no idea how he progressed with the team and all that, but if they saw something in him that can be developed that could be a pretty good idea. I doubt it happens though because it seems like motivation is a huge factor for him and I don’t think giving him less money is very motivating.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    I asked the same thing; could he be resigned if nobody picked him up. I think Steelers secondary need depth and Justin can provide it.

  • Unless there were problems with him during the season — and all of that would be speculation on our part — I think they should try to bring him back. Why not? Maybe he’ll never be a #1 QB, and maybe he’ll always be seen as a bust given where he was drafted, but obviously there was a lot that teams liked about him coming out of college, and at this point it really doesn’t matter where he was drafted other than maybe being with the Browns didn’t do him and his career any good. So if his ceiling is a #3 or #4 CB who can contribute in the return game (and that’s still possible even if Tomlin doesn’t like having defensive players back there), that’s not so bad. For the minimum, let him compete for a job. It’s not like the Steelers have better options right now.

  • RickM

    I doubt it will happen. If I’m Gilbert, I’m not pleased that my ‘guaranteed’ salary disappeared. And I’d be upset that you didn’t give me a chance to audition for you and other teams in the meaningless Cleveland game. Maybe Gilbert is an understanding guy. But my first thought would be you took my money back without even giving me a shot, and now you want me to compete at a much lower salary? Anything’s possible though.

  • dhorst88

    bring him back for a cheap, non-guaranteed contract. If it works or fails, you lose nothing

  • PapaJuju

    Yeah? It happens to NFL players all the time. They are used to it.

  • Michael Conrad

    Cheap camp body if they do. See if he wants to play or as some have said he does not like football and will move on the his lifes work.

  • RickM

    No, it actually doesn’t happen “all the time”. College players having their guaranteed money pulled off the table for suspensions, being waived and them going back to that team is not a common occurrence. Not sure I can even think of a comparable situation, although I’m sure there may have been.

  • Douglas Andrews

    Maybe playing for that non guaranteed Vet minimum might be the motivation Gilbert needs. Good plan on the Steelers part to cut him if they saw that Gilbert didn’t show enough desire. If they bring him back i’m good with it also.

  • Zarbor

    Yup. Its clear that’s been his problem. He’s not in love with the game and he’s not the only one. However, guys are motivated by other things such as money, see on trick pony in Bmore.

    I have no issues either which way also. Not sure how good this kid really can be. Would like to see if he was indeed a first round talent that need motivation or if he’s a first round bust.

  • WilliamSekinger

    Weird situation. Gilbert’s rookie contract was fully guaranteed based on in draft position. What happened to that money? Was Gilbert the only top draft pick of his class to not get a fully guaranteed contract? Did the Steelers stipulate that the Browns pay Gilbert the remainder of his guaranteed money if he was released before a certain time? Did Gilbert breach his contract and that is why the Steelers weren’t on the hook for it? Contracts just don’t get ignored, something happened to that money, we just aren’t getting the full story.

  • Justin Warrenfeltz

    A stipulation in Gilbert’s contract basically said that his final year is not guaranteed if, at any point, he is suspended for personal conduct issues. The Browns suspended him at one point, so we get the benefit of that decision to not have to pay him for this coming year.

  • Douglas Andrews

    It’s a mystery because his college tape shows 1st round top 10 talent.

  • WilliamSekinger

    Thanks, I was actually reading the same thing on a different website. Guess now we know!

  • Why am I a sucker for this idiot. I hope they bring him back then. The kid is oozing with talent, but if he doesn’t want it I don’t want any more time wasted on him.

  • RickM

    You’re not a “sucker”. You’re just concentrating too much on his play, largely against non-NFL receivers, at Oklahoma State. And perhaps not enough on his play and attitude once in the NFL. They are just vastly different things. 6th rounders (AB) can become stars; and 1st rounders can occasionally flop.

  • SkoolHouseRoxx

    Money is money and if you can get him for cheap do what you gotta do.

  • Steelers12

    man i just believe he can be a quality player for us for some reason

  • capehouse

    You make it sound like Gilbert just found out he didn’t have any guaranteed money. He’s known for awhile. It’s us that just found out. Still I agree, I doubt it happens, but because the Steelers don’t want him. 11 snaps all year tell me all I need to know.

  • T R

    yea he auditioned all year in practice.. that’s a hell of a lot of audition then u could have gotten in offseason and training camp to be the 4th corner. when someone don’t claim you off waivers for only 2.2 mil.. Unemployment can make you compete for a lower salary.

  • RickM

    How do you know that he ‘knew’ he wasn’t going to get the guaranteed money? That is not an automatic. It’s at the discretion of the team. Was it written somewhere that he knew this, or are you guessing?

  • RickM

    He has been waived by the Steelers. You seriously think that he won’t feel that he was never given an extended chance in a game?

    Many said that they should give Gilbert some playing time to see what he has. But the minute he’s not on the team, practise is more than enough of an opportunity for him. Typical, but contradictory.

  • Joey

    Yes. Agree

  • capehouse

    Oh well I’m definitely guessing, but I don’t think Gilbert is a complete idiot and had discussions with his agent after the suspension or at least during the trade to Steelers and had some idea of his contract situation. I definitely think the Steelers knew there wasn’t guaranteed money when they made the deal, and obviously Gilbert’s agent was well aware too.

  • DSG

    Kinda strange. Does that mean his ex-teammates tweet may have been an assumption and he didnt know the full story? However, Gerry Dulac mentioned he didn’t know the playbook. If we offer him a chance to come to camp and compete, nothing really lost, so no harm. Maybe this will light a fire under him. I really don’t want any more locker room distractions though. There is a lot of trust in football and its bad if you cant be confident your teamate knows what he’s doing. I hope he earns a spot if he comes back but also the trust and belief of his teamates.

  • RickM

    Personally, I don’t know, so I’m not going to say he “obviously” knew or didn’t know. A suspension does not mean an automatic voiding of the contract. My guess is that if he had won the starting job and played well, the $2.2 Million salary would have been honored.

  • Don’t hold your breath.

  • capehouse

    The obviously is just if the Steelers knew, because there’s no way the agent wouldn’t know if we knew lol.

  • Sam Clonch

    Me too. Hoping some other team doesn’t give him a better offer. I’d like to see him in camp at least. Get the majority of snaps in the pre-season, really see what he’s got.

  • RickM

    We’ll just agree to disagree. I just don’t know whether the 4th-year guaranteed money was ever a discussion topic, especially with the suspension levied by another team. It wouldn’t be the greatest ‘welcome to Pittsburgh’ but I appreciate you feel it was understood. If no grievance is filed, that would confirm your thoughts.

  • gdeuce

    you don’t give playing time to someone who can’t memorize the playbook

  • WreckIess

    He can definitely be an asset, but I don’t think it’ll happen. There are probably plenty of teams willing to pay more money to try to fix a 6 ft 200 lb corner that runs a 4.3.

  • PB1015

    Considering there is an investment of a draft pick, i would like to see him compete in training camp this year.

  • RickM

    Neither do you bring him back then.

  • Steelers12

    Agree whole heartedly

  • J.

    If what Joe Thomas said is true I dont want him back even if he was free.

  • RickM

    I read a couple of things on Cleveland sites that he was not officially suspended for the final game of the 2014-2015 season. He was late for a team meeting the night before the game and was declared inactive the next day. But it was too late to officially suspend him. Mike Pettine referred to it as an “essential suspension”. I have this suspicion that Gilbert will still go after his 2017 money, maybe from Cleveland. Could be totally wrong and he’s accepted that it’s not available.

  • AMP4380

    Interesting situation. Might be reading too much into it, but maybe the Steelers wanted to get away from the guaranteed money and the prospect of paying the 5th year option for a top 10 and top 15 pick next year. Or maybe they are just done with him.

  • stan

    If all he costs is a roster spot in training camp, then heck yes I want him. He has the talent to be an elite NFL corner. And, if he doesn’t show the desire in training camp, then you cut him and you’ve lost nothing.

  • Ray3

    Yet, no one has. Though to be fair, it could still happen. My confusion is driven by trying to understand why they would even play games to release/risk waivers/re-sign if he is talented as thin as they are at the position. Seems like an unnecessary gamble.

  • Jason Ader

    Any chance the Thomas Tweet was done to ensure that no one signed Gilbert and that he would clear waivers? I could see the Steelers saying, “Justin, we like you, but not for 2.2 mil to be a backup corner.” Justin clearly enjoyed his time with the Steelers for obvious reasons. It was an odd tweet at the time, but if he is friends with Justin or is friendly with someone on the Steelers team/staff… maybe that was a designed sneak…

  • Victor Charlie

    This is a cap move and very smart by the Steelers.
    They bring him back to compete for a spot on their own terms and lose nothing.
    The extra money saved will be put towards AB, Bell and our FA’s.

  • SilverSteel

    Exactly. We did not even give him a shot to prove he was worth it in a KR role or CB. I fully expected him to play in the Browns game and he should have at least as a KR. Then we use him in the POs with no gelling time all year. Makes no sense at all. Tomlin said he was working hard with no behavior issues, so why not develop him all year. It is not like we are super deep in the secondary.

  • SilverSteel

    And who said he can’t remember the playbook? I have heard nothing but positives from Tomlin and his team mates.

  • francesco

    I would love to see this playbook!
    It must be full of holes like our defense?

  • LabRat0116

    Well, that throws a bucket of ice water on Joe Thomas’s Tweet from the other day (basically saying this kid has a bad attitude).

    I’m encouraged to see that.

    Hopefully this kid can get his crap together and become highly productive.

  • RickM

    Agree. It’s tough to know what their thought process was. Cleveland just seemed like a natural game to play him. I would have had him out there for at least a half to get him the snaps and lessen the injury risk to Burns or Cockrell. But Tomlin just seems to have a different philosophy.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Yeah, lets see who signs him then offer a 4th round pick for him.

  • J.

    Not even then why bring a guy in who has no heart. All a guy with no heart can do is spread his lackluster behavior to other players.

  • J.

    The Browns were willing to trade him in the division to a rival in a division that has Flacco. Dalton and Roethlisberger (You know QBS where you might need a talented CB on your team when you play them). That should tell you everything you need to know about the guy.

  • Petherson Silveira

    If they bring him back for the vet minimum, that will be a brilliant move. I would love it.

  • Dlynn

    Where did you get that piece of gossip?

  • Steve Johnson

    I don’t know who is evaluating these F/A’s, but they probably need to change how they go about their business.

  • LucasY59

    especially when cap space may end up being tighter than it looks right now, saving over a million is a significant amount (even if it is less than 1% of the cap)

  • LucasY59

    he cleared waivers so there arent that many teams lining up to pay him

  • gdeuce

    Gerry Dulac

  • WreckIess

    Obviously they would want to do it on their own terms. Why would they pick up a 2.2 million dollar deal for one year?