Somewhere between Ndamukoong Suh arriving at the Miami Dolphins' facilities yesterday and the announcement of his contract being signed, another Dolphins acquisition was announced. The team picked up free agent cornerback Brice McCain on a two-year, $5.5 million contract, with $3 million guaranteed. It was clearly not the big news of the day, and it was not one that received much coverage, but it could be a move that lands the Dolphins a starting cornerback and solves the three-man rotation between what was, until yesterday, just Brent Grimes and Jamar Taylor.
What can Miami expect from McCain? Neal Coolong, the managing editor of Behind the Steel Curtain, SB Nation's outstanding Pittsburgh Steelers blog, was kind enough to give us an indepth look at a player who everyone expected to be a 2014 training camp body for the Steelers, but ended up starting for Pittsbugh and was a player the team wanted to re-sign.
It seems the new rage among cornerbacks in the NFL is a one-year "Prove It" deal. Miami saw Brent Grimes translate a short post-injury contract into a big pay-day. Darrelle Revis did it with the Patriots last year and Brandon Flowers did it with the Chargers.
This isn't to say the Dolphins' newest cornerback, Brice McCain, is on the level of those players, but he took a low-end deal from the Steelers (1-year, $750,000) and parlayed it into a $5.5 million contract by betting on himself and winning.
McCain earned a big extension from the Texans in 2011 after turning into one of the best slot cornerbacks in the league at a time the position was rising in importance. Like most of the rest of Houston's defense in 2012-13, McCain fell apart, and was eventually released. The Steelers are always looking for a combination of young, cheap and experienced in free agency, and in 2014, McCain fit the bill well.
Dogged perhaps unfairly (like so many are) due to poor grades from Pro Football Focus, McCain wasn't seen as much more than a training camp body when he arrived at the Steelers' South Side facility last year. It turned out he would be the prize of a hyped 2014 free agency class for the Steelers. Outplaying much more prestigious players like Mike Mitchell, LeGarrette Blount and Lance Moore, we considered McCain to be a top priority in free agency this year.
I would venture a guess that the Steelers offered McCain something around $4 million for two years. It's understandable why he chose the Dolphins' offer, and I think Miami improved as a team because of the signing. It certainly won't overshadow the big signing of Ndamukong Suh, but as Steelers' cornerback Cortez Allen (recipient of a big extension last offseason) collapsed as the year wore on, McCain filled in and played very well.
Steelers fans should be glad I'm not running the team, but if I was, I would have made an emphasis on retaining McCain. When your nickel cornerback eventually overtakes and outplays your big-money starter, he should have a role on your team moving forward. A smart signing by the Dolphins and the Steelers are out shopping for another young, cheap and experienced cornerback.
In his career, McCain has appeared in 86 games with 19 starts and recorded 130 tackles, 0.5 sacks, eight interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns, 39 passes defensed and one fumble recovery. He was originally a sixth-round selection of Houston in the 2009 NFL draft.
There was a lot of discussion yesterday about McCain, and how the Dolphins did not sign an impact player. Talking to Coolong, it sure seems like Miami may have gotten exactly the player they need to challenge Taylor, potentially solve the loss of Jimmy Wilson if he joins the San Diego Chargers, and compliment Grimes. Not a bad pickup for an under-the-radar signing.
A huge thank you to Coolong for taking the time to give us a look at McCain in what is a crazy week all around the NFL.