Steelers' position outlook: Cornerback

PITTSBURGH -- This is the 12th in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season -- and take a look ahead.


2014 free agents: None

The good: Cortez Allen showed that he can be a No. 1 cornerback as he continued to follow a path similar to the one forged by Ike Taylor, who was also a fourth-round draft pick the Pittsburgh Steelers unearthed from a small school. Allen tied for the team lead with two interceptions, and finished the season strong after a high-ankle sprain hampered him at the start of it. William Gay is never going to make the Pro Bowl or become a fan favorite, but he was solid after re-signing with the Steelers, whether was starting opposite Taylor or as a nickel back. Taylor had his moments, particularly when he matched up against A.J. Green. He held the Bengals' wide receiver to 134 receiving yards and no touchdowns in two games.

The bad: Taylor suffered through a brutal stretch in which couldn’t keep up with Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon among others, and by the end of the season defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau had stopping flipping his cornerbacks so Taylor could exclusively cover marquee wide receivers. Taylor did not have an interception, and cornerbacks accounted for just three of the Steelers’ 10 picks. Curtis Brown, who was taken one round ahead of Allen in the 2011 NFL draft, did not contribute beyond special teams, and the Steelers expected more out of the former Texas star at this point in his career.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Taylor is to make a base salary of $7 million in the final year of his contract, with a cap hit of $11.94 million. The Steelers have to get that number down, and Taylor will have to take a pay cut to return in 2014. The 11-year veteran has hinted that he is open to accepting one. Allen and Gay combined will count just over $3 million against the cap, so the Steelers are fine there though Allen is a candidate to sign a new deal before the start of the 2014 season. Allen is going into the final year of his contract, and I would think he is a priority for the Steelers to lock up long term.

Draft priority: Extremely high. The Steelers don’t have any proven cornerbacks on their roster beyond Taylor, Allen and Gay, and there is no guarantee Taylor will be back. They have to take a couple of cornerbacks they can develop, though I will be surprised if they use the 15th overall pick on one. The Steelers could repeat when they did in 2011 when they selected Brown and Allen in back-to-back rounds.