Steelers probably had right instinct about Brandon Boykin

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Brandon Boykin 3
Brandon Boykin 3

Last August, when the Steelers traded a conditional draft pick to the Eagles for slot corner Brandon Boykin, this is was naturally seen as a move in the right direction.

“The price is fairly-cheap for a cornerback-needy Steelers squad. Boykin will step in immediately and start in a secondary with many questions.” That was NFL.com writer Kevin Patra immediately following the move, and those sentiments were shared with just about anyone who was a fan of the Steelers or covered the team.

How could Boykin, who some considered the best slot corner in the NFL at one point, not start for a Pittsburgh defense that finished 27th against the pass in 2014 and had the likes of Cortez Allen and Antwon Blake on the roster?

It made perfect sense that Boykin at the very least would be the slot corner. In 2013, he had six interceptions and an impressive 17 passes defensed, according to Pro Football Reference. His playing-time and production slipped a bit in 2014, and there was that rift between he and former Eagles coach Chip Kelly.

Here’s a text message Boykin sent to ComcastSportsNet’s Derrick Gunn last summer regarding his rocky relationship with the controversial coach:

“He can’t relate and that makes him uncomfortable. He likes total control of everything, and he don’t like to be uncomfortable. Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn’t been important to him, but you guys have heard this before.”

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Ok, so Boykin had a rift with Kelly, so what? Like Boykin implied in the text, he wasn’t the first player and probably won’t be the last to have a problem with Chip Kelly.

Now, he would be in Pittsburgh, with Mike Tomlin, the straight-shooter and league-wide player-favorite, as his boss and head coach. The slate was clean for Boykin, as they say, and how could he not crack the starting lineup for the Steelers?

But week after week went by, and Boykin sat on the bench in Pittsburgh and barely saw any action. Fans clamored for Boykin to start. Even with the defense more exciting and opportunistic under first year coordinator Keith Butler, the secondary still wasn’t up to snuff, and opposing teams were having their way with the unit more often than not. Some said Boykin’s lack of playing time was due to, among other things, his poor tackling and the fact that he didn’t know the defense. Maybe this was true. Maybe it wasn’t.

Ultimately, Boykin did find more playing time down-the-stretch, as Pittsburgh clinched a playoff berth in Week 17 and advanced to the divisional round. As for that struggling pass-defense, it finished even worse than it did the year before (30th).

Boykin became a free-agent in the offseason and was available for weeks. Meanwhile, the Steelers did very little with regards to defensive backs, other than watch Blake sign with the Titans.

On March 28, Boykin finally found a home, when he inked a one-year deal with the Panthers. Carolina, the defending NFC Champion, was having a contract dispute with star corner Josh Norman, and the two parties eventually parted ways in April.

Great for Boykin, right? Wrong, as he was surprisingly released on Monday, less than one month after Norman became a free-agent, and more than two months before the start of training camp.

It seems like a move that makes no sense for the Panthers. As NFL.com pointed out on Monday, Boykin was set to earn $840,000 in 2016, and it’s not like Carolina’s secondary is filled with Pro Bowl players.

So, what’s the deal with Brandon Boykin? Is he a player who suffers from an ongoing case of bad luck, or is there just something about him that nobody knows but those who employ him?

Maybe it’s the latter. After all, coaches aren’t in the business of leaving perfectly good players sit on the bench without good reason. Like Jerry Glanville once said, “The NFL stands for ‘Not For Long’.”

Therefore, it would have been in Tomlin’s best interest to start Boykin a season ago if he thought he gave the Steelers’ secondary the best chance to thrive.

The Eagles, the Steelers and the Panthers. Chip Kelly, Mike Tomlin and Ron Rivera.

The only common denominator is Brandon Boykin.

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