Free Agency 2003: Part II - Cornerback

It seemed like every week offered a new cornerback goat for the Steelers in 2002 as Chad Scott, Dewayne Washington and Deshea Townsend took turns giving up big plays.<br><br>But with Scott, Washington and Townsend all signed to long-term lucrative contracts, the Steelers are stuck with those three for at least one more season.

That does not mean, however, the team won't be able to upgrade its talent at the all-important cornerback position.

There has been talk of Scott moving to a safety position during the off-season, a position some in the team's front office thought he was better suited to play when the Steelers selected him in the first round of the 1997 draft.

But Scott may balk at the move. And if his choice not to play in the first round of the playoffs because of a broken thumb shows anything, it's that Scott won't be pressured into doing something he doesn't want to do, even if it is the best thing for the team.

But even if Scott doesn't make the move, the Steelers could still use an infusion of talent that would either push Washington to the bench or give them a veteran fourth cornerback.

Hank Poteat filled that position last season, but has proven to be lacking as a coverage man. He's a restricted free agent this season and it's questionable whether the team will tender him an offer to retain the first right of refusal.

Baltimore's Chris McAlister is considered the top cornerback in free agency this off-season, but is expected to be given the franchise designation by the Ravens, who can ill afford to lose him.

After McAlister, St. Louis' Dre Bly is considered the next best corner. At 5-9, 190 pounds, Bly doesn't have ideal size, but he has 14 interceptions in four seasons, returning five for touchdowns, showing he's a playmaker.

While the Rams are up against the cap, they'll make a serious pitch to retain Bly, who will be a hot commodity. He could be too pricey for the Steelers.

A more sensible option for the Steelers might be Atlanta's Kevin Mathis, a 5-9, 185-pounder who was the Falcons' third cornerback this season, his sixth in the NFL.

Mathis started 29 games for New Orleans in 2000 and 2001, but missed several games with an MCL injury this season, which may help him slip under the radar of a lot of teams.

The unrestricted free agent pool drops off considerably after those three, but could be helped out by a couple of high-profile players who may be cut in salary cap moves.

Green Bay's Tyrone Williams is a six-year starter, but is due a $4-million roster bonus in March that will force the Packers to cut him or renegotiate his contract.

At 5-11, 193 pounds, Williams has the kind of size the Steelers like in their corners, but is still solid enough in coverage to have 19 career interceptions. He's solid, if unspectacular.

The other high-profile cap cut could be St. Louis' Dexter McCleon, who lost his job to Bly in 2002 after starting 47 games in the previous three seasons.

McCleon would give the Steelers another viable veteran option to shore up the pass defense.

(Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles that will take a position-by-position look at free agency, which will begin Feb. 28, and how it pertains to the Steelers.)

By Dale Lolley

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