The New Orleans Saints have announced that they have signed cornerback Keenan Lewis, who had a breakout season in 2012 for the Pittsburgh Steelers in his first year as a starter. His contract is reportedly worth $26.3 million over five years with $10.5 million guaranteed.
While the Steelers would have liked to retain their former third round pick from 2009, some have suggested that the team was content to move on with Cortez Allen, a fourth round draft pick from 2011. He made three starts at the end of the 2012 season after Ike Taylor was injured and forced five turnovers in the last two games.
The Steelers also brought back another one of their former draft picks to help fill the void, however, signing William Gay to a three-year contract days after he was released by the Arizona Cardinals. It is believed that Allen will start opposite Taylor with Gay manning the nickel slot.
An interesting undercurrent of this story is that Lewis is a native of New Orleans, and grew up with former teammate Mike Wallace, who cashed in big on day one of free agency with the Miami Dolphins. As the two entered college, Wallace elected to stay in Louisiana by playing for Ole Miss while Lewis followed his former high school coach to Oregon State.
The two were rejoined when the Steelers drafted both in the third round in 2009, and now it’s Lewis who is going home. There are reports that he turned down a larger contract, possibly from the Titans, in order to return to his native city.
Lewis led the league in pass deflections last season with 23 while showing stoutness in the run game with 71 tackles. He allowed just 52% of passes thrown in his area to be completed, despite playing through multiple injuries at the beginning and toward the end of the season.
On the down side, the Saints should not expect to count on Lewis to produce a wealth of turnovers, which was a key strength to their defense in 2009 when they won their first and only Super Bowl. He forced one fumble last season, with two for his career. He also has one interception to his name, which was in 2011.
Still, he should be a major upgrade for the Saints, going from the league’s top passing defense in yards allowed to the 31st.
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