In their first move to rebuild a secondary that finished next to last in the NFL in 2012 against the pass the New Orleans Saints agreed to terms with former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis on a five-year deal.
Lewis, a graduate of O. Perry Walker High School in New Orleans, evacuated the city during Hurricane Katrina and lived briefly with relatives in Houston. The former Oregon State defensive back could help a secondary that struggled to limit deep completions last season. The Saints led the NFL in receptions allowed of 40 yards or longer with 14.
“I'm very excited to be able to come back to my hometown,” Lewis said. “Having grown up here I understand the passion that the fans have for the Saints and I'm blessed to be able to have the chance to play in front of them here in the future. I had a great visit with the Saints and am thankful for the time I spent with the Pittsburgh Steelers and wish them continued success.”
The five-year deal will pay Lewis $26.5 million, including $10.5 million guaranteed according to NFL.com.
When opposing quarterbacks targeted Lewis in 2012, the 6-0, 208 pound cornerback allowed 11.8 yards per catch according to Pro Football Focus. By comparison Patrick Robinson, who started 16 games for the Saints at left cornerback, allowed 17.6 yards per reception. The figure ranked Robinson last among cornerbacks who received 60 percent of their team's snaps, Pro Football Focus found. Saints cornerback Jabari Greer, who started 13 games at left cornerback, allowed 14.6 yards per catch.
Lewis also led all corners with 16 passes defenses, one more than Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman. On passes in Lewis' direction, opposing receivers finished with a 52.7 catch percentage. It's a relatively low percentage considering Lewis was targeted 112 times on the season. On throws toward Lewis, quarterbacks finished with an 80.7 quarterback rating. Quarterbacks had much better success when challenging Robinson, finishing with a rating of 105.7. Robinson was only targeted three fewer times.
The Saints heavily pursued Lewis in free agency.
“He was a top free agent target for us and I know that he is very excited to be able to come home to play football," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said.
The Saints face a tough decision on whether to retain Greer. The 10th year veteran from Tennessee carries a $5.425 million cap hit in 2013. If Greer is released before June 1, nearly $4.0 million of his contract will count as dead money against the cap for the 2013 season, according to Spotrac.com. Robinson's cap hit doesn't exceed $2.394 million in each of the next two seasons.
Pittsburgh will look to replace a corner which led the team in pass defenses and finished fourth in tackles (78) in 2012. Veteran cornerbacks Brent Grimes, Aqib Talib, Cary Williams and Antoine Cason remain available in free agency.
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