When it was announced that cornerback William Gay would be returning to the Pittsburgh Steelers after one season with the Arizona Cardinals, an interesting thing happened. While there was the usual speculation that Gay's return may mean the Steelers won't be re-signing impending free agent Keenan Lewis, a rising swell emerged to say that it isn't Lewis that should be the casualty—it should be his teammate, Ike Taylor.
That's right: Some people believe that a cornerback tandem of Gay and Lewis would be more effective than retaining Lewis to work alongside Taylor and putting Gay in the nickel. While the Steelers certainly do need to make serious decisions to get further under the salary cap before the start of the league year on March 12, it's extremely foolish to think that releasing Taylor is the best way to get this done.
But where does this sentiment even come from? Why would Lewis be more important than Taylor for the Steelers in 2013 and beyond, so much so that Taylor should be sacrificed to keep Lewis around?
The concerns appear to stem from age and money, as they so often do. It's not as though the Steelers don't have any precedent of using these two factors to determine roster cuts—they did so last year, and they very well may do it again next week (though it appears linebacker James Harrison may be safe (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) now that contract talks have finally begun)—but that doesn't mean one simply needs to cross-reference the ages of Steelers players with their salaries and figure out who is about to be, or should be, released.
While Taylor is about to turn 33 years old and is coming off of a late-season ankle fracture, that doesn't mean that his effectiveness is shot. While his 2012 season started off roughly—giving up five touchdowns in the first six games—he never again allowed anyone to score on him. Only 44 percent of the passes thrown in his direction were completed last season, he had 10 passes defensed and an interception and allowed just 161 yards after the catch.
As such, Taylor ranked 33rd out of 113 cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus; Lewis, in contrast, ranked 41st. It's not a huge difference, granted, but with Gay ranking 105th, it doesn't make sense to cut Taylor in favor of a Gay-Lewis tandem. Not when the Steelers' secondary was the best aspect of their defense last year.
Taylor isn't inexpensive. In 2013, he'll cost the Steelers $6 million in base salary and represents a total salary cap hit of $9.45 million with bonuses included, making him the fifth-highest paid member of the team for the season.
It's a lot of money and certainly more than the deal the Steelers would like to make with Lewis to keep him—though that latter point is speculation, as the team is going to let the market dictate Lewis' value and then make their final decision based on that number. Regardless, it doesn't appear presently that Lewis will command a salary like Taylor's because he's not as good a cornerback.
Taylor might be older than 30 years, he may have suffered a very real, though not terribly concerning (in a long-term sense) injury and he's set to be very well-paid in 2013, but that's not a formula that adds up to the Steelers needing to release him. He's worth the Steelers' money in 2013 because he's earned it.
It's one thing to assume that Lewis won't be around this season because they brought Gay back (a theory I don't personally subscribe to), but it's another illogical leap altogether to say that Gay will be joining Lewis as Pittsburgh's starting outside corners and that Taylor will be cut in order to pay Lewis.
Maybe Taylor will restructure his contract to free up a bit more money (though that will likely come with an extension as he's an unrestricted free agent in 2015), but that's the only thing that could potentially be coming Taylor's way in the next few days. If the Steelers choose to release a veteran or two, it won't be their most talented and biggest-contributing cornerback, no matter what dots observers are trying to connect.