FA target #1: Keenan Lewis

You’re looking at an NFL CB who had no missed tackles in 2012.  I kid you not.

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Update:
Jamison Hensley gets it:

There’s no question that Lewis is the Steelers’ top priority in free agency. But it’s going to be difficult to keep him considering he’s a rising player at a coveted position and the Steelers are cap-strapped again. Lewis stepped up in his first season as a starter, leading the AFC with 23 passes broken up.

The Browns’ can fill their greatest area of need with the player the Steelers most want to keep.

Is there any question that he should be priority free agent target number one?

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end update.

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The annual Brownie Hot Stove season is upon us.  Good times.

For me, this year, the draft isn’t where it’s at.  We of course need to get an impact player at number six.  Playmaking edge-rush 3-4 OLB /5-tech DE makes sense.  Ziggy Ansah, Barkevious Mingo, Margus Hunt, Dion Jordan.  They all work for me.  But after that, the Browns don’t pick again until mid-way into day two.  I’m just not all fired up for the draft.  I might be more revved up if the final piece of an epic four man front were being procured.

Free-agency is where it’s at this year.  Browns have the cap space to go after someone and, in my opinion, they’re close enough to being playoff caliber where such outlays make sense.

Just stop.

We’ll put the QB talk aside for now (because to be honest, I’m curious to see Weeden in a non-Shurmur offense.).  We’ll leave the silly Joe Flacco and Mike Wallace talk alone.  If you’re here at kanick, you already know that:

  • Flacco aint leaving, if you can’t recognize contract-fluffing agent-planted ‘rumors’ by now … (I was about to say go back to clev-dot-com but I don’t mean that) … and,
  • Wallace plays a position where we’re good (and Wallace’s much-talked-about measurables bear a surprising resemblance to a slightly taller Travis Benjamin*).

No, that’s the sort of talk for radio shows and national outlets.  Our bar is higher.

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When to use free agency in earnest?

Active free agent signings are best done to put an ok team over the top.  This means identifying holes and plugging them.  FA done right lets you transform positions of weakness into strength literally over night.  FA done right can move an ‘ok’ team into playoff range.

That’s where I think the Browns are; that’s why I think this FA season is crucial.

To my eye, the biggest weakness on the Browns is the defensive backfield.  We saw how bad the CBs were when Haden was out.  Even with Haden playing, Sheldon Brown isn’t getting any younger and it doesn’t look like Skrine, Wade, Badamosi are long term answers.  All of them are 6′ 0″ or less too.

We need a big fast athletic bookend CB on the other side of Haden.  I’ve got my eye on Dominque Rogers-Cromartie.

I was SO trying to build a case for 6-2/4.3/38in vert DRC.  I was going to overlook the bad tackling rep; conjure a ‘non-suited to nickel’ bail-out; maybe even lay some blame on having worked wtih Nnamdi and Asante.  But there were a lot of ‘DRC = Doesn’t Really Care’ posts in his file.**  That nickname reminded me of the worst lay down of a professional team that I saw last year:  the Eagles quitting at home vs Bengals, 34-13. (Eagles were +4.5 at home, this cost me a Cheddar point, we do not forgive or forget.)

Dog ex-Eagle defensive backs are things we need less of, not more of.  (Sheldon Brown, you’re excluded from that.)

Revised mission statement:

Keenan Lewis.

We need a big physical CB who can cover and tackle on the other side of Haden.  

I’ve got my eye on Keenan Lewis.

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Keenan Lewis, 26, Oregon State.

6-0 3/4, 205, 4.47, 33.5 combine vertical (38.5 pro day).

Boyhood friend of Mike Wallace, played Pop Warner together.

Started all 16 games at CB for Steelers in 2012.

Grades respectably on the PFF rating.

Here’s the note that got my attention:

Lewis withstood the pressure, …, leading the AFC in passes defended.  He finished fourth in the conference in yards allowed per target and seventh in touchdowns ….  … he never gave up 100 yards in a game to opposing receivers whom he covered.

Usama Young form tackle.

Lewis was equally stout against the run, ranking third in the AFC in run stop percentage, …  … didn’t miss a single tackle on opposition running plays and helped the team’s defensive backfield allow the fifth fewest yards on runs that exceeded 10 yards. link.

Also note that in week 13, Ike Taylor was injured and Lewis was called on to cover opponents’ #1 WR and the stats are good.  (Though in truth, it appears picking on Cortez Allen became a universal game plan bullet after Taylor’s injury.)

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What are they saying in Pittsburgh?

SBNation Steel Curtain post that can only be read as ‘nervous’ bemoans the Roethlisberger contract, lack of depth across the board, and the possibility that the Steeler System of slow-walking their young players into the lineup may leave them, in this case, unable to pay a CB now entering his prime.

Lewis did a great job this season. He very well could get a deal somewhere around $20-25 million guaranteed (think five years, $40 million). Maybe he’d stay for less. The fact is, though, with the amount of money Ike Taylor is owed (over $7 million in cap money over the next two years), and the level of play shown by Cortez Allen (who’s still playing on his rookie contract), they may have to let Lewis go and look for Taylor’s replacement in this draft.

As for Lewis, he’s saying the right things.  It looks like he wants to stay in Pittsburgh.

I was misquoted by a reporter saying it was a mistake not to give me a contract last year. Try to make my image look bad, but here Wat it is, I’m not money greedy, I had my exit meeting today and it went great. I know we in the right direction as far as a contract, I believe strongly I would be apart of Steeler Nation next season. To do a three peat as the number one pass defense period. Here we go.

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Did the Steelers screw-up this time?

Top 20 CBs ranked by 2013 cap hit.  Click to enlarge.

Top 20 CBs ranked by 2013 cap hit. Click to enlarge.

Maybe.  An offer was made to Lewis last offseason.  But it was an offer for nickel-back money.

“I was just a nickel back. I probably would have told them to hold up on the contract anyway because I wanted to really establish myself as a starting cornerback. I didn’t want nickel-back money, I wanted starter money.”  (link here.. sorry, there’s sound on it.)

The Steelers will work hard to re-sign Lewis.  Ben’s contract might get restructured.  Harrison probably let go.  Guys like Lewis are who you keep.

And…  aren’t those the FAs to go after?  The ones their own teams are trying desperately to keep?  Looking at the Steelers, Harrison, Colon, Keisel are get-able.  But if the Steelers aren’t going after them, why would we?

The Steelers are sitting on a cap number of $129MM for 2013.  Or $133.5MM if you go by this link.  (I’m subscribed to spotrac… let me know if you all can’t access any of the URLs.)  They’re somewhat porked.  Now is the time to sweep the leg.

Browns could offer a Tillman contract ($8MM cap hit for 2013) and the Steelers wouldn’t seem to be able to match.

Finish them.

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What will it take to get him here?

It seems like CBs get paid on name-brand.  Lewis, since this was his first year starting, doesn’t have that. All he has is no missed tackles and most passes defended.

Cornerback money is weird.  Nnamdi is getting $15MM/yr, Finnegan $9MM.  Eric Wright and Jonathan Joseph get the same dough.  So… you tell me, right?  I mean I like Chris Gamble and Charles Tillman more than Wright and Dunta Robinson.  But they’re all in the $7.5MM/yr range.

I have no problem putting that kind of money in front of him.

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Here’s Wallace-Lewis talking about growing up together in New Orleans.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mjIDfRjrmx8?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

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The only Keenan Lewis video I could find was a Madden clip narrated by a 10 year old who doesn’t realize Ziggy Hood is not Keenan Lewis.  You should click this.  I wouldn’t put it here if it weren’t worthy… but it turns out it has nothing to do with anything other than the joy of middle-schoolers discovering youtube upload.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ1Kv8jZLT4?rel=0&w=640&h=360]

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* Benjamin:  5-10, 4.36, 38in vert; Wallace:   6-0, 4.33, 40in vert.

** This was the thread that finally forced me to step away from DRC:  Goodbye DRC. That “tackle” on the last TD was PATHETIC.

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