Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Monday, March 01, 2010

Free agency look: DBs

As I do every offseason, I’ll take a look over the next few weeks at the Steelers’ potential free agents and possible veteran replacements or upgrades.

Keep in mind that the Steelers have never been major players on the free agent market. So no matter how much you want them to go out and sign say, Terrell Owens, it’s not going to happen.

This week as we head into the eve of free agency, we’ll take a look at the defensive backs.

Steelers potential losses
William Gay, CB, restricted
Deshea Townsend, CB, unrestricted
Tyrone Carter, S, unrestricted
Ryan Clark, S, unrestricted

If there is any position that will undergo major changes for the Steelers in 2010, it will be the defensive backs.

Few will argue that this was not a weak point for the team in 2009 and with four free agents - including three unrestricted free agents – it could see a great deal of turnover.

In his first season as a full-time starter, William Gay was exposed as a liability in pass coverage. Gay lacks deep speed and because of that, he must give more cushion. He also struggled at times with his tackling in 2009, eventually losing his starting job to Townsend.

But the Steelers will likely tender him and give him another shot at winning the starting job back in 2010.

Townsend, on the other hand, won’t be back unless he finds no takers in free agency. The 34-year-old still sees himself as starting material, even if the Steelers do not. They like what Townsend brings to the table, but durability questions will always be there. In fact, the team kept Keiwan Ratliff for most of the season because it was worried Townsend would break down again in 2009.

Veteran safety Tyrone Carter has also probably played his last game for the Steelers. A nice bit player, Carter’s lack of size and speed is exposed when he has to play regularly. The Steelers can do better with their backup safety position.

Clark, the team’s starting free safety, is also unrestricted and the team would love to bring him back, but won’t break the bank to do so. Though Clark is a heady player and a big hitter, he’s not adept at producing takeaways, something you’d like of your free safety. He does, however, have a nice rapport with Troy Polamalu and the two have an innate sense of where each will be. That cannot be overlooked.

If Townsend and Carter leave via free agency, the Steelers will likely be looking to sign at least one and possibly two veterans to throw into the mix with some of their younger players at those positions.

Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson is considered the top player available at that position, but the former top-10 draft pick’s production – 13 career interceptions, six of which came as a rookie – hasn’t matched what he’ll likely be asking for on the open market.

More affordable options would include New England’s Leigh Bodden, Seattle’s Ken Lucas and Detroit’s Anthony Henry.

At 28, Bodden is the youngest of that trio and is coming off a season in which he made 14 starts with the Patriots, picking off five passes. But three of those interceptions came in one game against Jets’ rookie Mark Sanchez. Still, his five picks were four more than the Steelers’ corners had in 2009.

Lucas, 31, could probably be had for a good deal less than Bodden and still has something left as he showed with the Seahawks in 2009, playing in all 16 games and making six starts. Lucas has 25 career interceptions, including one last season.

At 33, Henry is the oldest of this group of corners, but also has the best hands. The 6-1, 207-pounder saw action in 14 games in 2009 and like Lucas, made six starts. He recorded 46 tackles and two interceptions, giving him 31 in his career.

At safety, the Steelers could throw caution to the wind if they don’t feel negotiations with Clark will prove meaningful and make a run at New Orleans’ Darren Sharper.

Though 34, Sharper is one of the best ball hawks of all-time as evidenced by his 63 career interceptions. There is no doubt he could probably coax at least three more seasons out of himself. The Steelers also have a bargaining chip no other team does when it comes to negotiations with Sharper. He was a teammate of head coach Mike Tomlin at William & Mary and the two remain friends.

If the Steelers are looking for someone who would be a little cheaper but also add some experienced depth, they could go after another player with ties to Tomlin. Tampa Bay’s Will Allen is just 27 and owns 26 career starts at free safety for the Bucs, including 16 games in 2006 when Tomlin was his defensive backs coach. Allen was also first alternate as the NFC’s special teams Pro Bowl representative in 2009, something that would be a welcome addition for the Steelers.

Allen would be a nice replacement for Carter.


Anonymous said...

Willie Gay sucks ass. Get rid of him

Dale Lolley said...

Not going to happen.

Pistol said...


I agree on Gay hes still young and has shown flashes just needs consistnecy.
What about Mundy?? Do you think he will ever amount to a starting caliber FS?? At times he looks great and others a step slow.

alexrkirby said...

I think Gay is adequate... as a #3 CB. I looked for him to play better as the season went on but he struggled the whole season and never seemed to improve. He cannot be counted on step up and be our #2 Cb.

Dale Lolley said...

I still like Mundy, but he did look a step slow at times. Could be because he was unsure of what he was seeing. You'll see that at times with young players. That was Polamalu's problem his first year.

Patrick said...

I know its only one game, but Mundy had possibly the worst series I've ever seen a DB have against the Raiders. I mean it was amazing: drew a 15 yard flag for a helmet to helmet hit, then he knocked out his own player with another helmet hit, and got torched several times.

Safety is the thinnest position and if Clark leaves then they are screwed. I think Allen would be a nice pick up if Clark leaves though.

Even so they really need a top draft pick here. If Clark leaves and Troy goes down again, then what?

Speaking of DB's, I'm pretty sure the answer is a big NO, but Dale, do you think the Steelers would consider dealing for Cromartie? The only way I could see it happening is for a 3rd Rd pick and I doubt SD wants that.

Anonymous said...

Given the way DT's and OT's are shooting up the draft boards the Steelers should be able to draft a quality rookie safety if they truly want to. I'm personally hoping they go after Iupati or Pouncey but if a good DB is available you'd have to consider it.

Tim said...

I agree with alexrkirby. Gay should only ever start again if he hugely improves. As he is now, I'd be fine with keeping him as a #3. However, I'd bet that he's our #2 and starting come Week 1 of 2010. Let's hope he has a nice offseason.

Patrick, didn't DeAngelo Hall give up something like 70 yards in penalties one time, all in the same drive? I wonder if that's a record.

Dale Lolley said...

Charles Woodson was pretty bad against the Steelers last year as well on a series or two. That can happen. Thing just snowball as you try harder to make up for a mistake.

After Berry, the only safety I'd look at in the first is Earl Thomas. You want somebody who's going to turn the ball over and he definitely does that. Plus, he could play some corner as well.

marc said...

no cba this year, free agency will be muted, everybody keeps saying deepest draft in 20 years...

seems to me there may be a lot of trades before and during the draft this year. teams will look to trade down and it will be a way for other teams to bring in players they need/desire.

datruth4life said...


What about moving William Gay to safety full-time? I always thought he was better coming forward playing the ball rather than backpedaling and playing the receiver, often with his back to the ball. He also gives up WAY too much cushion on his receivers, a primary reason why he is never in the play to make an interception or knock the ball down. And with Ike's hands, I don't think you can start to CB's again that can't make plays on the ball.

People also forget that the Steelers had the no. 1 coverage units in the league when he and A. Madison were the gunners on special teams. I think he should be a team's 3rd safety or dime db and special teams player. That's it.

I also don't think the Steelers should break the bank for Ryan Clark. Considering everything he has been through physically and the fact he just turned 30, one has to wonder how long will he hold up. I thought his play regressed this past year. A sleeper that I have for the Steelers in the 1st round is CB Kyle Wilson from Boise State. He is 5'10'', 195 lbs, and is a no. KR/PR as well. The Steelers need to come out of free agency and the draft a starting corner and at least 1 dime corner in the pipeline to take over for Ike after next year.

alexrkirby said...

I heard last year that Keenan Lewis would end up playing safety in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

Dale, it was reported that Sepulvda received the lowest tender, giving the Steelers a right of first refusal with no draft pick compensation. It is my understanding that the tender amount for original round compensation is the same amount. Is that correct? If so, why would the Steelers only secure a right of first refusal, and no draft pick compensation?

marc said...

clark's agent seems to think there will be no deal done. if clark hits free agency, no way he stays with steelers. other teams will give him too much money to turn them down.

i hope they have a backup plan if clark leaves.

BlackNGold said...


I really like Wilson too but unfortunately, he's no sleeper. Not anymore. He's definitely on the radar of most people now.

Dale Lolley said...

Yes, the Steelers would not receive compensation for Sepulveda, but they would get the opportunity to match.

Pistol said...


I def agree w you on Thomas as far as the only safety in the 1st. I think he would be a great duo with troy as much ground as he can cover.

What are your thoughts on Iuapti?? It seems like everyone likes the guy but in the Sr Bowl he was a holding machine even if they didnt call them. I know that can be coached but it was a red flag to me.

datruth4life said...

Dale, out of these 5 players, who do you think would be the best pickup for the Steelers next year via the draft:

1) ILB Rolando McClain
2) NT Dan Williams
3) G/T Mike Iuapati
4) CB Kyle Wilson
5) DE/DT Jared Odrick

Out of the 5, I think McClain has star potential. If he dropped to no. 14, do you think the Steelers should move up to try and get him?

Other than McClain, I think this might be the draft for the STeelers to move down in the first round and pick up a couple of extra picks. There is going to be plenty of quality still on the board in the early 20's in this draft and this team needs secondary help in the worst way.

Anonymous said...

I don't know why they'd pick Odrick, they just drafted two DEs last year and have both starters under contract. The other four seem like good picks.

Anonymous said...

Bouchette is reporting that the Steelers would get: a 5th for Gay, a 3rd for Spaeth, a 4th for Sepulveda, and a 1st for Colon if they didn't match any offers.

datruth4life said...

On the Steelers website, it says what picks they would receive if they chooose not to match those players who were tendered. And it says that they would receive a 4th-round pick in return if they didn't match Sepulvada's deal, who was a 4th round draft pick. Straight from the horses mouth.

datruth4life said...

A lot of people are saying that Odrick can play some NT too, so he would appear to be a good fit with the Steelers. The biggest thing is you'd like to get a NT/DE that can stay on the field and play all 3 downs (having the ability to slide inside and rush the passer on third down). I think Ziggy and Sonny Harris can both do that, from what I saw last preseason and from Ziggy a little during the regular season.

I've seen ILB Rolando McClain play and this dude will be in Hawaii often in the future. I think he is a difference-maker and could be your leader on D for the next decade if you get him. Might be time to do one of those Troy P. trade up deals to get him if he falls out of the top 12 picks.

keevin said...

"I heard last year that Keenan Lewis would end up playing safety in the NFL."

You heard that from me, it was my idea. I haven't heard anything official though

Hopefully either K. Lewis or Burnett can step up and start over Gay. Gay was a huge liability on the field.

keevin said...

"I've seen ILB Rolando McClain play and this dude will be in Hawaii often in the future. I think he is a difference-maker and could be your leader on D for the next decade if you get him. Might be time to do one of those Troy P. trade up deals to get him if he falls out of the top 12 picks."

I agree 100%. This might be Farrior's last year, McClain would be an awesome replacement. And yes we would probably have to trade up a few spots but it will be well worth it!!!!!

datruth4life said...

One difference-maker can make a draft. I think U plug this kid in on a defense and just turn him loose. It's been awhile since I seen a LB with the size of McClain move like he moves. Once again, I think the Steelers should move up to get him or move down and pick up more picks. Thoughts?

Patrick said...

I really wonder if some team picking at the end of Rd 1 will try to tender Colon.

I think I'd rather him stay and not have to deal with filling another hole. But with the draft being as deep as it is. I think the Steelers would get an adequate replacement at 18 and a safety/corner/ILB at the next first round pick. It would obviously open up all kinds of trade possibilities too.

Dale Lolley said...

I don't see anyone going after Colon. Not only do you have to give up the pick, it's going to cost you the money as well - much more than you'd pay a late first-rounder.

Of the five players you mentioned in the draft, the first three would be solid first-round picks at 18. I'm not so sold on the other two that high. And this is a very deep and good draft. I wouldn't trade up this year. You'd possibly be giving away very good players to move up.

datruth4life said...


McClain won't be there at no. 18, that is why I think they should consider moving up if the price is right. Williams and Iupati might be there at no. 18. I think they could trade down, pick up some picks, and take Wilson or Odrick, although I bet you Odrick will be rising by draft day.

Although this draft is mentioned at being fairly deep, I would still rather have difference-makers on my team. I just happen to think that McClain is one of those type players. If U think that he is and the price is right, go get'em. If not, then I'd seriously consider moving down from no. 18 and stocking up on talent. A trade down a few slots in the first round could give the Steelers 11 draft picks in a deep draft (I think the team will get at least 2 compensatory picks for the losses of McFadden, Leftwich, and Washington).

marc said...

what you say seems to make sense. however, what it really comes down to is how many open slots are you going to have on the team. if the steelers end up with 11 picks, how many of those guys have a for real chance of making the team?

right now, that's not a question we can answer because of the free agency period. let's pick this discussion back up after free agency.

Patrick said...

Every year this comes up. You draft 11 players on a team like the Steelers and you're cutting at least 4 of them, most likely 5, possibily more. Having a ton of draft picks isn't as great as it sounds when you have depth. The Steelers have holes but they aren't in a rebuilding year (yet, that is coming soon).

I've always thought NE does it perfect - get as many picks as possible in Rds 1-3.

adamg said...

Dale, I see Wash released ARE. Seems like a good return match for both him and the Steelers.

marc said...

were the steelers interested in cromartie? i would have taken him for a 3rd round pick.

Patrick said...

Cromartie for a 3rd is good, but now they'll prob have to sign him. Should easily cost more than what McFadden would have. And Cromartie seems to have run support issues, which the Steelers demand from their corners.

marc said...

our current corners seem to have pass support issues, which the steelers demand from their corners.

Patrick said...

yeh well obviously, but I'm just saying, they might not have expressed any interest because he doesn't fit their mold or preferences. If the guy can't play the run, we'd all be crying about that all season

marc said...

lol...that was 1/2 sarcasm, 1/2 truth. i see what you're saying, but wish they would bring in "real" competition to maybe get taylor to step up his game.

Patrick said...

all good. I was interested in the Steelers picking him up too, but I think the cost/run defense is their reasons - all I'm saying.

This might sound crazy but I'm actually hoping Clark is gone for the simple fact it will force the team to address safety and the secondary early. I think there is some serious talent at safety on the board at 18 this year.

The problem with this is obviously no vet and I doubt a safety starts in this D. Hopefully means a vet (Allen) or Lewis and not Mundy.

Dale Lolley said...

They've reportedly contacted Arnaz Battle about a visit, making it seem they're in the market for an ARE-type of playmaker. But I think ARE has passed his expiration date.

As for Cromartie, he was average to below-average last season.