Monday, March 4, 2013

Does The Steelers Signing Of William Gay Mean The End Of Keenan Lewis?

William Gay has officially signed with the Steelers again. According to the tweet from beat writer Gerry Dulac above, it is a three-year deal, though the exact terms were not disclosed. It has been intimated, however, that the terms do benefit the team. Gay will be no more than a Nickel/Dime defensive back and will probably see special teams duty, so there's no need to question the team's ardor toward signing free agent Keenan Lewis. Or is there?

ESPN brought out today that, though he started fewer than half of the 80 games he played while in Black and Gold, Gay has played in 96 consecutive regular-season games since being drafted, the longest active streak among cornerbacks. And when Gay left before last season, we expressed the fact that Gay's leaving was a loss:

"Make no mistake, William Gay's departure is a loss. Not only is there now the possible need to replace a cornerback, but the Nickel position as well. He started at the left cornerback spot for the Steelers last year from week two on after Bryant McFadden was benched following the week one loss to the Ravens. Then, when the Steelers would switch to Nickel and Dime packages, Gay would move inside to the slot and Keenan Lewis would come in as the left corner.

Gay made more plays last year than people choose to remember. He's not a starting NFL by any means, no, but the Steelers will still feel the loss, especially at the Nickel.

That said, he was only beaten in a game-changing way twice all regular season, one of which arguably was caused by Ryan Clark being late over the top, and his 2011 regular season stats were on par with Ike Taylor's. The loss is real: he provided experience and depth, he was very good in the Nickel and he knows LeBeau's system.

At the same time, though, this is far from a major loss. There is good young talent at the position behind him in Pittsburgh. Even if he had stayed on a veteran minimum or qualifying contract offer, he still would have been the third or fourth defensive back in Pittsburgh next season."

Now that he's been brought back, one would think he's still in the position of the third or fourth option, putting Curtis Brown, DeMarcus Van Dyke and Josh Victorian on notice. Unfortunately, though, two sources say that it may be the end for Keenan Lewis after all. As Steelers beat writer Dale Lolley put it in his post regarding the signing: "Gay was solid in the slot for the Steelers in 2011 before leaving for Arizona, and that's likely where he'll be asked to play in 2013. That means Cortez Allen will move into the starting lineup on the outside opposite Ike Taylor, though the Steelers will likely call it an open battle between Allen, Gay and Curtis Brown heading to training camp....It also means that the Steelers will now likely let Keenan Lewis walk..." -

The general consensus of those covering the team is that this sounds Lewis' death knell, as Jim Wexell tweeted here:

It's the classic "cognoscenti vs. Intelligentsia" debate, because If It Ain't Steel believes that all efforts to keep Lewis should be made. If he leaves of his own volition, so be it. It's his decision. Do, however, make any and all attempts to retain the man who was one of the two best defensive players on the team last season. A secondary of he and Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen in the slot, and then having Tez take over for Ike after he leaves next season, would seem to be ideal. Silly me, I thought depth was a good thing. Gay said that Taylor personally called general manager Kevin Colbert urging him to bring Gay back. Hopefully someone else will call Colbert and urge him to find a way to keep Lewis.

UPDATE: Behind The Steel Curtain is reporting the deal Gay signed is supposedly around $4.5 million with an approximate $500,000 signing bonus.