Cornerback Keenan Lewis snags a ball in a drill at a Steelers practice at their South Side facilities in May.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers never made Keenan Lewis an offer, not last year when he was a restricted free agent, not this year before he became a free agent and not any time Tuesday after free agency started.
Even though general manager Kevin Colbert stated they were interested in keeping all of their free agents, they never made a move on Lewis, one of their best. What they did do was make a pre-emptive strike before free agency by signing William Gay and virtually turning Lewis' starting job over to Cortez Allen.
But the contract that Lewis signed with his hometown New Orleans Saints Thursday turned out to be one the Steelers could have afforded if they wanted to. He signed for five years for $26 million with $11 million guaranteed, according to various reports. With a $6 million signing bonus and a $1 million salary for 2013, it pegs his first-year salary cap hit at only $2.2 million.
Nevertheless, the Steelers chose Allen and Gay, who received a three-year, $4.5 million deal, instead.
They also lost a less important member of their secondary Thursday, Ryan Mundy, who signed with the New York Giants. Mundy, who played at Woodland Hills High School, has been mostly a backup in his four seasons with the Steelers and dropped from No. 3 safety to No. 4 last season.
The Steelers hope to find younger safeties in the draft.
Lewis, a third-round draft pick in 2009 from Oregon State, joined his former high school teammate, Mike Wallace, as a departing free agent. Wallace signed with the Miami Dolphins Tuesday and Rashard Mendenhall signed with the Arizona Cardinals Wednesday -- three starters gone in three days. Two other starters were released, James Harrison and Willie Colon.
Lewis was a slow developer after the Steelers drafted him. He moved into the pass defense as a third cornerback in 2011 and then took over as the starting left cornerback last season. He started all 16 games and led the NFL in pass deflections, 28 by his coaches' count, or 22 more than he had in his first three seasons.
The loss of Mendenhall and Mundy leaves the Steelers with no players left from their 2008 draft class.
Team gets visitors
Halfback Beanie Wells, who has already had a physical, will visit the Steelers today along with Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Victor Butler. ... Tight end Kellen Davis, cut by the Bears Wednesday, paid a visit to the Steelers Thursday.