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Why Did the Steelers Waste $26 Million on Cortez Allen?

Cortez Allen will be an awfully expensive nickel back Monday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers host the Houston Texans at Heinz Field.

The Steelers agreed to pay Allen 520 million nickels, or $26 million, over the next five years. But because of his lackluster performance this season, Allen has lost his starting job to Brice McCain.

Pro Football Focus ranks Allen dead last among the 175 cornerbacks who have taken the field in the NFL this season. He’s missed seven tackles (Will Blackmon of Jacksonville is the only cornerback who has missed more) and committed seven penalties (Blidi Wreh-Wilson of Tennessee is the only other cornerback to be flagged seven times).

Allen had an interception in two straight games, then regressed in Sunday’s 31-10 loss at Cleveland. Brian Hoyer’s quarterback rating was 149.3 on the passes he threw into Allen’s coverage, according to PFF.

Throwing the big bucks at Allen before the season seems like a mistake now. The Steelers would never admit this, but the reason they gave Allen the big contract is because they were haunted by their decision to let Keenan Lewis become a free agent two years ago.

Lewis broke up six passes and intercepted one in his first three years with the Steelers. So they let him play out the final year of his contract in 2012, and he had a breakout season with 23 passes defended. The cap-strapped Steelers couldn’t re-sign him, and he inked a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Saints. For basically the same money the Steelers are paying Allen, Lewis intercepted four passes last season for the league’s fourth-ranked defense.

Allen did more in his first three seasons with the Steelers than Lewis did in his first three seasons. A fourth-round draft pick from The Citadel in 2011, Allen seemingly emerged as a ballhawk late in 2012. In the final two games of the season, he intercepted two passes, broke up three passes and forced three fumbles.

That apparently was enough to convince the Steelers that Lewis was expendable, but it turned out to be fool’s gold. Allen was inconsistent last season, starting just eight games. He intercepted two passes, including a 40-yard pick-six in the Steelers’ 38-31 win at Green Bay in Week 16.

Still, the Steelers didn’t want to risk Allen having a Lewis-like breakout season. So they locked him up through 2018. It’s looking like they should have taken a wait-and-see approach with Allen, also.

This is a case of one mistake leading to another mistake. The first one is more forgivable. Who could have predicted the season that Lewis had in 2012? He entered the year in a three-way race with Allen and Curtis Brown, who has since been cut, to start opposite Ike Taylor.

When it comes to the Allen signing, something didn’t seem right.

The Steelers don’t negotiate contracts during the season. So they often re-sign players during the preseason. There was a time when these August deals would be for players like Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley, players with Super Bowl rings.

Cortez Allen? He was part of a defense that surrendered a league-high 11 plays of 50 yards or more last season. Now he’s the sixth-highest paid Steeler, according to Spotrac.

Perhaps a demotion will do for Allen what it did for Taylor in 2006. After winning the Super Bowl in 2005, the Steelers slumped to 8-8 in 2006, and Taylor lost his starting job for five games. After that, he became a vital component on another championship team.

The difference is that Taylor already was an accomplished cornerback when he was benched. He broke up a career-high 23 passes in 2005 and even though he’s not known for his ball skills, he had an interception in both the AFC championship game and Super Bowl XL.

Allen can catch the ball better than Taylor. He has six interceptions in three years. Taylor has 14 in 12 seasons. But that’s just one part of a cornerback’s job description. When it comes to shutting down receivers, Cortez Allen is no Ike Taylor. So far, it looks like he’s no Keenan Lewis, either.

Unless Allen puts it all together, the Steelers kept the wrong guy.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets




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  1. eric smith

    Allen got “schooled” last night on MNF, by a receiver who is in the twilight of his career (Andre Johnson) and is playing with a second-tier QB. When Steelers face Luck this Sunday, and other top quarterbacks later, expect even greater embarrassment. The way Allen clung to Johnson on his P.I. call was just pathetic.

  2. Jimbo

    Steeler fans on sites just like this also roundly criticized Keenan Lewis as being a bust…until his final season with Pittsburgh!!!! Are we going to do the same to Allen? Chill a bit. Geez.

  3. Mario L

    These are ALL desperate moves by Kevin Colbert to cover up bad drafts No Depth Letting the wrong players leave thru free agency & AWFUL free agent signings. Kevin Colbert must retire at season’s end, he can NOT be allowed to oversee another draft in 2015.

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