PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers turned to an unlikely place to get help for their revamped secondary: Cleveland.
Pittsburgh acquired cornerback Justin Gilbert from the Browns on Saturday hoping the former first-round pick can deliver on the potential he never fully realized in two disappointing years with Cleveland. The Steelers sent a sixth-round pick in 2018 to the Browns in exchange for Gilbert, who had one interception while becoming the latest high-profile selection to flame out for Pittsburgh’s perennially rebuilding AFC North rival.
The Steelers are trying to revamp a secondary that finished 30th in the league against the pass last year. They drafted cornerback Artie Burns in the first round and safety Sean Davis in the second round this spring, but Burns was slowed by a quad injury during training camp and didn’t make his preseason debut until the finale against Carolina.
Burns is likely to start the season in nickel and dime packages, though Gilbert could be given a chance at starting on the outside opposite veteran William Gay.
Pittsburgh has struggled to find top-end cornerbacks in recent years. Ike Taylor retired in the spring of 2015 and Cortez Allen — who was lavished with a five-year deal on the eve of the 2014 season — lost his confidence, his starting job, and was released in April. Senquez Golson, a second-round pick in 2015, missed all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury and is out indefinitely while recovering from surgery to repair a Lisfranc injury in his foot.
Gilbert’s arrival came the same day Pittsburgh released 2015 fourth-round pick Doran Grant while trimming its roster to 53 players. Grant dealt with his own health issues last year and was limited to three games last fall.
Pittsburgh also released linebacker Steven Johnson, signed as a free agent during the offseason, and sixth-round pick Travis Feeney, slowed by a concussion during camp. The Steelers also cut wide receiver DeMarcus Ayers, a seventh-round pick. Pittsburgh took a flier on Ayers hoping he could make an impact in the return game. Ayers could not, a void Gilbert may have a chance to fill.
Running back Le’Veon Bell moved on to the reserve/suspended by the commissioner list after violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Bell will be eligible to return following Pittsburgh’s Week 3 meeting with Philadelphia.