Steelers Encouraged to Pursue $86 Million Former All-Pro CB

Despite drafting a wide receiver in the third round of the 2024 NFL draft, rumors are still swirling that the Pittsburgh Steelers could sign or trade for a wide receiver this summer. But cornerback is arguably an even bigger need. That could make free agent Xavien Howard an interesting potential target.

Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox argued the Pittsburgh Steelers should pursue free agent cornerback Xavien Howard to pair with Joey Porter Jr.

At least that’s what Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox suggested. On May 6, Knox named Howard a free agent the Steelers should consider targeting.

“While the Steelers added several starting-caliber players in the draft, they didn’t add a replacement for departed cornerback Patrick Peterson,” Knox wrote. “Pittsburgh did trade for Donte Jackson earlier in the offseason, but it could use more depth at the position.”

“Four-time Pro Bowler Xavien Howard remains available and would be a strong fit for the Steelers. He dealt with a foot injury in 2023 and was released by the Miami Dolphins in a cap-saving move. However, he appears to be healthy now.”

Howard made three consecutive Pro Bowls before his injury-plagued 2023 season. He has also led the NFL in interceptions twice — 2018 and 2020. Howard made the All-Pro team during each of those seasons, including first-team All-Pro in 2020.

Last season, he had 45 combined tackles, 12 pass defenses and 1 interception in 13 contests.

Over the course of his eight-year career, Howard has earned $86.59 million according to Spotrac.

How CB Xavien Howard Could Fit With the Steelers

Set to turn 31 in July, Howard isn’t likely to be an All-Pro cornerback again. The Steelers were recently the road of signing an ex-All-Pro cornerback with Patrick Peterson. The team released Peterson this offseason after just one year in Pittsburgh.

For that reason, perhaps general manager Omar Khan would prefer to stay away from aging cornerbacks this offseason.

But at least on paper, Howard is an enticing potential target for the Steelers.

“A return to Pro Bowl form is entirely possible for the 30-year-old, who could give Pittsburgh another strong option alongside Jackson and Joey Porter Jr,” wrote Knox.

Howard signed a 2-year extension with the Miami Dolphins two years ago that raised his average annual salary to $25.3 million. But he could be far more affordable on his next deal.

“I’d rather take a pay cut to go to a team that’s going to go further in the playoffs,” Howard said during an appearance on The OGs Podcast, via CBS Sports’ Garrett Podell. “I got my money and stuff like that. I’m to the point, like, ‘How much money do you really need?’

“My goal is always to try to win a Super Bowl. Don’t let the money get in the way of winning a Super Bowl.”

If Howard views the Steelers as a serious contender, then Pittsburgh may be able to land Howard on an affordable deal. That would make him a very appealing option.

Steelers CB Depth After NFL Draft

The Steelers could use additional cornerback depth on the outside behind Joey Porter Jr. and Donte Jackson. But the team’s biggest need in the secondary probably sits at nickel cornerback.

In the slot, the Steelers are expected to have Darius Rush, Josiah Scott, Thomas Graham Jr. and undrafted free agent Beanie Bishop compete for playing time.

If the Steelers prefer to add a slot cornerback, Howard is not the best free agent to target. Howard played just 3 snaps in the slot last season and has never played much nickel cornerback in the NFL.

In a perfect world, the Steelers will add a cornerback this summer who could play both inside and outside. Ironically, Peterson, who the team released on March 8, is a veteran who could line up at each of those spots.

Howard would certainly provide depth and perhaps be an upgrade at outside cornerback. That’s why the Steelers adding him is a possibility. But a more versatile free agent could be a better choice.

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