Cortland Finnegan to Steelers: Why Ex-Titans CB Would Look Good in Pittsburgh
Admit it, you've thought about Cortland Finnegan in a Pittsburgh Steelers uniform.
It's too tempting not to think, at least for a second, about one of this year's top free agent cornerbacks becoming a Steeler. One Steelers fan has gone so far as to ask Bob Labriola, editor of Steelers Digest, about the likelihood of Finnegan coming to Pittsburgh.
It might seem like a forbidden thought because the Steelers normally shop in the bargain basement during free agency season, signing role players to modest contracts.
That approach has worked well for the Steelers, but this might be the year to take that escalator to the bright, shiny upper floors of the free agency store and take a look at some brand names.
Finnegan, the soon-to-be-former Titans cornerback, should top the Steelers' shopping list.
So let's just get this idea out in the open and take a look at five reasons why Finnegan would be a good fit in Pittsburgh.
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The Ike Taylor Watch
Sure, the Steelers' secondary might have performed better if Ryan Clark were playing, and I'm not going to declare Taylor washed up because of one bad game.
However, Taylor turns 32 in May. Sometimes when a player's skills deteriorate, it happens quickly. Taylor needs to be monitored closely for any further hints of a decline.
Finnegan is 28, and unlike Taylor, can catch the ball. He has 14 career interceptions in six seasons to Taylor's 13 in nine seasons.
Keenan Lewis seems ready to step into a starting role next season, and Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen looked promising as rookies last season, but they're all still growing and need to be anchored by a veteran presence.
That's what Taylor's for, but adding Finnegan wouldn't hurt.
Upgrade over William Gay
The Steelers better hope Ike Taylor remains a shutdown cornerback, because Finnegan would be a better fit playing opposite Taylor than replacing him.
An AFC front-office person, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com, said that Finnegan is a better slot cornerback and blitzer than he is covering speedy receivers on the outside.
That sounds an awful lot like William Gay, who is an unrestricted free agent and might have played his last game with the Steelers.
Gay made a lot of progress last season, with two fourth-quarter interceptions that helped seal victories. Keeping him would be cheaper than signing Finnegan.
However, Finnegan has an All-Pro season on his resume. He's essentially a better version of Gay, so the Steelers would improve their defense by signing him.
The skill set mentioned in the previous slide hints that Finnegan could be a candidate to move to safety later in his career, like Ronnie Lott and Rod Woodson did.
The Steelers could use someone like that, because Troy Polamalu will be 31 next month. How many more years can he maintain his high-flying style of play? Finnegan is no Polamalu, but he is similar in that he can be effective from various spots on the field.
At free safety, Ryan Clark turns 33 next season. That means three of the Steelers' four projected starting defensive backs in 2012 are on the wrong side of 30.
The defensive backfield is one of many areas where the Steelers need to get younger, and Finnegan turned 28 on Feb. 2.
The Nasty Factor
You have to admire an athlete who sets a goal for himself and then goes out and achieves it.
Before the Steelers visited the Tennessee Titans in 2010, Finnegan said he aspired to be the NFL's dirtiest player, an honor held at the time by Hines Ward. Finnegan showed how envious he was by picking a fight with Ward during the game.
At midseason, Finnegan was voted the league's dirtiest player, although it was in a Sporting News poll. Ward was voted the dirtiest player in an SI.com poll.
With Ward gone, Finnegan wouldn't have to kiss and make up with him if he joined the Steelers.
Not only that, but Finnegan would fit right in with a Steelers defense that, as far as we know, doesn't need a bounty program to stretch the limits of the rules.
Even if the Steelers did have a bounty program, what good would it do for players like James Harrison and Ryan Clark, who essentially would be forwarding that bounty money to the NFL office in the form of fines?
Like Clark, however, Harrison won't be around forever. He turns 34 in May. Clark already has one foot in the broadcast booth. He has his own radio show in Pittsburgh.
Finnegan would add some younger nastiness and help ensure that the Steelers defense doesn't get softer with age.
Due for a Free Agent Splash
The release of James Farrior signals that the Steelers are due for their once-a-decade, high-profile free agent signing.
Farrior was a five-year veteran with the New York Jets when the Steelers signed him before the 2002 season. He made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and 2008 and helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls.
Farrior was a recognizable name, though, even before he decorated his resume in Pittsburgh.
Farrior's signing was uncharacteristic for the Steelers, who traditionally build through the draft and go under the radar in free agency.
Now that Farrior's gone, it might be time to live a little and sign someone who doesn't cause fans to ask: "Who?"
According to The Tennessean, Finnegan will be looking for about $10 million per year. That might be what the Steelers have to pay to keep speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace, who is a restricted free agent. That means the Steelers, who are about $10 million to $12 million under the salary cap, could only sign Finnegan if they somehow lose Wallace.
There's a good chance the Steelers will keep Wallace. They placed a first-round tender on him and can match any offer he receives.
If Wallace walks, however, it might be too much to take for Steelers fans who just endured the purging of Ward, Farrior and Aaron Smith. They might be addressing the Rooneys in much the same way Cameron Frye addressed Principal Rooney in Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
In that case, it would behoove the Steelers to make an impact in free agency and sign Finnegan.