The Steelers n'at - A Journey in the Dark: And so it begins...

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A Journey in the Dark: And so it begins...
It didn't take long after the Steelers wrapped up their underwhelming 2012 campaign for the proverbial crap to start hitting the fan. As the season drew to a close and fans and the media started to look towards next year there were two topics on the table for immediate discussion. The first was the impending salary cap situation and the hefty cap hits that aging veterans James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are carrying. The second was the free agent situation, the most important of which is unrestricted free agent CB Keenan Lewis. You might be surprised to read that sentence that I didn't say Mike Wallace or Rashard Mendenhall were the most important free agents, but Wallace failed to replicate the stellar playmaking ability he had shown in the past and Mendenhall spent most of the year injured or in the doghouse after fumbling twice against Cleveland.
It didn't take long for the other shoe to drop. From this tweet from Alan Robinson of the Tribune-Review, he claims that Keenan said he is planning to test the free agent market and that the Steelers made a mistake by not offering him a multi-year deal before 2012. In the long run, this may well be the case, but let's take a look at why this is a ludicrous statement at this point in time.
First, let's go straight to the source - Keenan Lewis himself - who responded with this tweet claiming that Robinson mis-quoted him. On one hand, it is hard to believe that a former AP reporter would mis-quote a source. But on the other hand, it is very possible to believe that this is simply another example of the giant crapshow that a prolonged offseason brings. 
Secondly, the facts simply do not support what Robinson is alleging. Prior to the 2012 season, Keenan Lewis had never been a consistent contributor on the field. After being drafted in the third round in 2009, Lewis only appeared in 4 games and ended the season on IR with a foot injury. In 2010, Lewis played in only 9 games (mostly on special teams), buried on the depth chart behind Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, William Gay, and Anthony Madison. The Steelers drafted Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen in the 3rd and 4th rounds of the 2011 draft, setting up a battle between Lewis, Brown, Allen and Crezdon Butler for the back-up corner spots. Lewis won the battle for the #4 job and Butler wound up being the odd man out. Bryant McFadden's early-season injury and general ineffectiveness led to Lewis' promotion to #3 on the depth chart by midseason. After William Gay left in free agency, Lewis found himself as the starter-in-waiting heading in to 2012. Before the 2012 season, Lewis had accounted for 40 total tackles, 1 interception, 6 passes defended, and 1 forced fumble in 3 seasons on the Steelers roster. In that time he had started only once and appeared in 29 games. That is hardly the resume of someone that should be offered a long-term contract.
Lewis won the job as starter over Allen and Brown in the 2012 preseason and had a very good year, even stepping into the #1 corner role when Ike Taylor went down with an ankle injury. Lewis' 2012 season saw an escalation in all of his stats, with him starting all 16 games, accounting for 69 total tackles, 23 passes defended and 1 forced fumble. Those are most definitely the kind of numbers deserving of a long-term contract, but to say that the Steelers "made a mistake" by not offering him one before the 2012 season is flat out wrong. No team in the league is going to offer an unproven corner with only 1 start in 3 seasons a multi-year deal. Now, if Lewis decides to test free agency this spring, after his breakout 2012 campaign, you can hardly blame him. He is due for a solid payday and now has the numbers and tape to back it up, but the long and the short of it is the Steelers (or any team for that matter) would have been insane to offer Lewis a mutli-year deal before the 2012 season given his production during the first three years of his career. Hopefully for all of our sakes, the Steelers are able to work something out with Lewis and we can keep him around. He was second in the league in passes defended this season and has tremendous upside if he continues to improve the way he did this year.

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