Signing Taylor looms as Steelers' top priority
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When the Steelers did not sign Ike Taylor to a new contract before last season it left open the possibility that their starting cornerbacks for 2011 could be Bryant McFadden and William Gay.
Taylor will be the Steelers' top priority in free agency when the lockout ends, but that does not mean they will be able to come to terms with the best cornerback on their roster.
Taylor, a nine-year veteran, is an unrestricted free agent and can sign with any team once a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. He is the Steelers only starter from last season who is an unrestricted free agent.
Willie Colon, the starter at right tackle in 2009, is likely to be an unrestricted free agent once the lockout ends but he missed last season with an Achilles injury.
Taylor, a starter since 2005, is generally regarded as one of the top four free-agent cornerbacks set to hit the open market. Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha is the consensus top cornerback with Taylor, Cincinnati Bengals Jonathan Joseph and the New York Jets Antonio Cromartie in the next tier.
The NFL's usual free-agency period, which happens in March, did not take place this season because of the lockout. As a result, there likely will be a shortened period for signing free agents.
A target date for the lockout to be settled is July 15, which would give free agents about one week to sign before teams go to camp. The Chicago Bears and St. Louis Rams are scheduled to start training camp July 23. They are the first NFL teams to open camp this year because they are playing in the Aug. 7 Hall of Fame game.
Taylor's agent, Joel Segal, would not comment on whether he spoke with the Steelers about a new contract before the lockout began, but he expects a quick resolution once the shortened free-agency period begins.
"The free-agent period will be fast," Segal said Tuesday. "Teams are going to be prepared. Deals will be done at a rapid rate."
Taylor, who previously stated his desire to retire as a Steeler, completed the final year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract that he signed in 2006. Segal also would not comment on where the bidding for Taylor's services might start, but he said Taylor is "one in a handful of top cornerbacks" in free agency.
Here is how Taylor stacks up against Asomugha, Joseph and Cromartie.
• Taylor is the best of the bunch in run support with 481 career tackles. He has 11 career interceptions but never has been selected to the Pro Bowl.
• Asomugha is a four-time Pro Bowl selection, has 11 career interceptions and 310 tackles. He entered the league the same year as Taylor, 2003.
• Joseph, who entered the league in '06, has 14 career interceptions and 272 tackles, but has missed 12 games over the past three seasons with injuries.
• Cromartie, who also entered the league in '06, has 18 career interceptions and 207 tackles. He made the Pro Bowl in '07.
If the Steelers can't sign Taylor to a new contract, it is unlikely they would sign another player from the first tier of free-agent corners, assuming they command comparable dollar figures, because of the comfort level between the Steelers and Taylor and Taylor's knowledge of the defense.
If Taylor signs elsewhere, the Steelers could be interested in the next tier of free-agent cornerbacks because the other corners on the roster with experience besides McFadden and Gay are Crezdon Butler and Kennan Lewis.
The second-tier free-agent group includes Drayton Florence, Chris Carr and Carlos Rogers. Florence is a nine-year veteran who has played for San Diego, Jacksonville and Buffalo. Carr is a seven-year veteran of the Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens. Rogers, the No. 9 overall pick in '05, spent his first six seasons with the Washington Redskins.
The Steelers drafted two corners in April -- Curtis Brown of Texas in the third round and Cortez Allen of the Citadel in the fourth.
First Published July 6, 2011 12:00 am