The speculation of who was getting tendered is over now as the Steelers have made their decisions with Mike Wallace and the rest of their restricted players.
We talked about Mike Wallace, Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, and Ryan Mundy previously but Keenan Lewis is possibly a different story. Perhaps not so much because of his value to the team but rather the 3rd round pick the Steelers would get in return should he sign elsewhere.
The RFA’s (other than Wallace) received draft round tenders so of course the Steelers will get an additional draft pick equal to the round those players were drafted in. For the other 3, the compensation (or lack thereof) isn’t equal to the players’ worth so expect that the team will keep them once all is said and done.
For CB Keenan Lewis though, it may not be as cut and dry. An additional 3rd round pick is nothing to sneeze at, certainly a very valuable commodity for a team trying to address multiple needs on the interior lines. Should Pittsburgh decide to not match any offer sheet that Lewis receives, they’ll get that 3rd round choice. It’s an interesting situation because Lewis showed great improvement in 2011 and would figure to challenge for a starting job next year.
After a rough year in 2010 in which he found himself in the proverbial doghouse of Mike Tomlin there were questions as to if he’d even make the team in 2011. A rough preseason game against Denver and some bonehead plays before and after pretty much relegated him to the bench for most of the season. He saw limited action but it was clear that Tomlin was sending him a message. That and also the fact that the team drafted Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen last year to help bolster that unit and create some depth in the secondary.
Mission accomplished for Lewis as he saw action in all 16 games in 2011 in the nickel and dime packages as the primary backup to Ike Taylor and William Gay, He finished with 37 tackles, 6 passes defensed, and 1 interception.
The interesting thing now is, because both Allen and Brown showed serious potential and Lewis improved his game so much, all 3 could battle it out in training camp for the starting job opposite Ike Taylor. Perhaps the Steelers would consider letting Lewis leave for a 3rd round pick in return and letting both Brown and Allen battle it out for the starting and primary backup jobs.
I would like to see Lewis stick around for one more year at least and ultimately that figures to be the case. The $1.26 million price tag will be easy to carry and if Lewis continues to improve they’ll be getting him at a nice bargain. Even though he doesn’t figure to garner significant interest in free agency there could be some teams interested in him and that 3rd round pick might be too hard to pass up.
All in all, even with William Gay seemingly in the rear view mirror for the time being if not for good, the prospects for secondary coach Carnell Lake are bright!