I for one am not as “ga-ga” over Keenan Lewis as most members of “Steeler Nation.” And while I believe that the Steelers should attempt to sign their Starting Cornerback, I do not believe that they should go above and beyond in a fiscal sense to keep him. In fact, if it were up to me, here is how I would handle the situation:
1. Find an “fiscally responsible” contract in terms of length and expense to offer to Lewis. When I say “fiscally responsible” I mean offering Lewis the market-value for a Cornerback of his age, experience, and caliber. I should add that I do not mean players like Cortland Finnegan (2012: 5 years, $50 million), Eric Wright (5 years, $37.5 million), and Lardarius Webb (5 years, $50 million, $10 mil s.b.). Each of those players had more starts (Finnegan: 79, Wright: 71, Webb: 19) and Interceptions (Finnegan: 14, Wright: 13, Webb: 7), and were close to Lewis’ age when the received their deals’ (Finnegan: 28, Wright: 26, Webb: 26). The Steelers should look to offer Lewis a contract in the neighborhood of what guys like Aaron Ross (29 years old, 3 years, $15.3 million, 41 Starts, 2 Super Bowl Championships, 10 INT’s) and Richard Marshall (27 years old, 3 years, $16 million, 55 Starts, 7.0 Sacks, 17 INT’s) received instead. I would say something in the range of 4 years and $20 million.
2. If Lewis refuses, up the ante no more than somewhere between $22 and $24 million over 4 years.
3. If he still refuses the counter-offer, let him go elsewhere, draft a Cornerback/Free Safety prospect like Johnthan Banks, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Sanders Commings, or Melvin White, and be thankful the cap-space will be available down the road.
If the Steelers do end up “breaking the bank” for Lewis at some point during the next few months, I am going to be less than thrilled. People can blather on and on about restructuring contracts to accommodate Lewis’ potential deal all they want, but I have to ask one simple question: Is a Cornerback who only records one Turnover, which is not even an Interception, over an entire season really worth a dime over $20 million dollars? I think not.
Sure, Lewis’ 23 Passes Defended (which led the A.F.C. in 2012) and 71 Tackles might be all that is needed to convince some people that the soon to be 26 year-old is worth an expensive deal. And although Lewis showed some improvement as the season wore on, I would be hesitant to lavish a large contract upon a player like Lewis who has only 17 career start under his belt, and racked up a large amount of those statistics because he was picked on as often as he was last year.
Issues with ball-security, an ACL Injury, and an unproductive 2012 season are what should keep the Steelers from re-signing Rashard Mendenhall this offseason. At least, I would hope so. Pittsburgh should be on the look-out to add an “Every-Down Back” on Day 2 of the Draft to pair with Jonathan Dwyer in a short-yardage role, so I simply cannot see the Steelers spending money to keep a player like Mendenhall around for anything unless he was willing to work for close to nothing.
There is absolutely no way the Steelers elect to keep Mundy during this offseason. After five years on the Practice Squad/roster, Mundy has done nothing to warrant himself to be more than a Special Teams player, at best. Once thought to be the heir apparent at one of the Safety spots, Mundy has underperformed when he has had to play on the Defensive side of the ball, particularly in the Steelers’ postseason loss to Denver in January of 2012. Last year, Mundy was passed on the depth chart by Will Allen, and it would make zero sense whatsoever for Pittsburgh to spend money to keep a 3rd string Safety on their roster when Will Allen, Robert Golden, and a Draft Pick(s) can shore up the depth.
Lack of depth at the Tight End position, plus Heath Miller’s potential absence for much of the 2013 season will likely buy Leonard Pope another one year deal with Pittsburgh. Although Pope caught only 3 balls last year, 2 of them were Touchdowns, and he could be used in a Special Teams/Red Zone role if David Paulson proves he can start until Heath gets healthy next year. Pope likely would have been cut had Miller been healthy, but with the Pro Bowler sidelined, Pope should get himself another one-year offer at the same $725,000 base salary he made in 2012.
I will continue to say it until he finally retires or is too injured to play, but the Steelers should really consider bringing Starks back for one more year. I understand that Pittsburgh just hired a new Offensive Line Coach, and I also am aware of the fact that the franchise has drafted an Offensive Tackle in Round 2 of the 2011 and 2012 Drafts.
But do you readers really believe that Mike Adams or Marcus Gilbert will be ready to man Big Ben’s blind-side in 2013? Furthermore, is there any guarantee that both Tackles will be able to stay healthy either? I remember last year when it seemed like Craig and I were the only ones who wanted Starks brought back as a backup insurance policy, and we were roundly criticized. I also remember when Starks won the Left Tackle job during the Preseason and proceeded to play what might have been the best football of his career during the regular season. While the Steelers cannot lavish Starks with a huge contract, they should at least offer him some deal in the 1-year $1 million dollar to 2-years $2.5 million dollar range.
The only thing I have to say about “Butterfingers” and his future with the Steelers is: “Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish.” If Wallace wants his $10-11 million dollars per year, he can look elsewhere and take his “me first” attitude with him. The Steelers cannot afford him, and the franchise is better off ridding themselves of Wallace and adding size to the Wide Receiver position, not keeping 6 foot nothing versions of Clifford Franklin from “The Replacements” and paying them 8 figures per season.
Not much to say here about the Steelers Long Snapper who will be 32 this Fall. When healthy, Warren has been an effective Long Snapper for the Steelers over his 8-year career with the team. No need to fix what’s not broken on Special Teams, and the Steelers would be wise to offer a similar contract to Warren as his last one (2 years, $1.71 million).
In terms of salary cap purging, the Steelers are going to be extremely busy this Spring. With 16 UFA’s also set to hit the open market, the cash-conscious Steelers cannot afford to “make it rain,” let alone “make it hail” regarding their decision making. Ultimately I see Allen, Batch, Foote, Johnson, Legursky, and Warren being shoo-ins to stay due to what they will likely command on the open market and what the team will be able to afford. I would love to see Starks and Foster back as they have proved that they can stay on the field, but they will likely find more lucrative opportunities and chances to start elsewhere.
Keenan Lewis will be the “Wild Card” of this bunch, and I for one hope that he stays. Yet as I alluded to above, I hope that the team takes into account their current financial situation, and their financial situation down the road when they decide to ink him. You know, what they did not do when they “showed LaMarr Woodley the money,” and people like me were the only ones who could see that dumpster fire of a deal for what it was.
Gloating aside, I have faith that Colbert, Khan, and the rest of the Front Office can navigate their way through the salary cap mess the Steelers are currently in with some savvy restructures, heady cuts, and fiscally responsible deals.
Readers: Who Should the Steelers re-sign? Who should they allow to walk? Who can they afford? Who can’t they? Share below.