Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Re-Signing Ike Taylor Was a Smart Move

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Why Re-Signing Ike Taylor Was a Smart Move
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Ike Taylor is a conundrum. Depending on who you listen to, he is either a lock down corner as good as anyone currently playing the game or one of the most overrated players in the NFL.

Supporters of the former opinion cite his stats, which are impressive in every category but one—as John Harris said: " He can't catch a cold, much less an interception."

Taylor did, however, come down with two of them last season, which appeared to surprise him as much as anyone.

As Mike Wagner says, "a defensive back with good hands is called a wide receiver."

Taylor's detractors claim that it is all a sleight of hand. After all, he plays with all-world safety Troy Polamalu. He lines up with the best pass rush duo in the league in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, and he answers to a genius disguised as a defensive coordinator in Dick LeBeau. Take any of these away, so they say, and Superman turns out to be merely Clark Kent.

So which is it?

As usual, the truth lies somewhere in between. Nonetheless, I believe that Ike Taylor was the most crucial piece of the free agency puzzle for the Steelers this season. It's easy to denigrate his abilities until you start thinking about replacing him.

 

Some were hoping that the gaping hole that Ike's departure would leave could be filled in the draft. But without mortgaging the future, there was little chance of the Steelers drafting a corner that could start in the No. 1 or No. 2 slot this season.

And lest we forget, the Steelers drafted 31st. Moving up any appreciable amount would have been very expensive. Moving up enough to get one of the two stud corners would have carried an almost unthinkable cost.

But what if the Steelers had actually traded up far enough to draft Prince Amukamara?

Even in an ordinary year, Dick LeBeau's defensive schemes take a great deal of time for rookies to assimilate. This year, with no OTAs or mini-camps, the rookies are at an even bigger disadvantage.

As a first-round pick, Amukamara would have gotten a basic playbook, since the lockout was suspended at that point. That's scarcely enough.

As Brett Keisel said at training camp last Thursday: "We're probably an eighth of the way through the playbook right now...It's going slow, and there's a lot to this defense. I don't see the young players picking it up until at least [the second] half of the year." 

Furthermore, Amukamara broke his foot on August 6th and will require surgery. It seems unlikely that he will be starting for the Giants at the beginning of the season.

 

Then there were the dreamers that thought we could get Nnamdi Asomugha for a steep discount. After all, he doesn't have a Super Bowl ring.

The $60 million, five-year contract that Asomugha inked with the Eagles is less than many thought he would demand. But the Steelers barely scraped under the salary cap despite restructuring several of their largest contracts. Asomugha might as well have asked for $160 million from the Steelers' perspective.

It also makes Ike's reported $28 million, four-year contract look like quite the bargain.

There isn't any homegrown talent waiting to step into the breach. Hopefully we will see more—a lot more—out of the likes of Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler. But would any of us like to bet the ranch on it?

Thanks heavens we don't have to. Ike Taylor brings excellent play and veteran leadership to the team. Thus far, he has proven to be extremely durable, having missed only one start in the past five years. He is strong and he is fast—no doubt in part because of his legendary offseason training program. He trains in Florida with Tom Shaw. He took one week off after the Super Bowl this year.

Given the average age of LeBeau's phenomenal defense, this may be the last window to make a run at a seventh Lombardi for this group. Because of that, there is even less room to replace a critical member of this defense.

The Steelers may not get to "seventh heaven" with Ike Taylor on the field, but they almost certainly don't have a snowball's chance in hell without him.  

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