PITTSBURGH – Despite having a need to make improvements in their secondary, the Steelers released cornerback Justin Gilbert Monday.
Gilbert, the eighth pick in the 2014 draft, was acquired by the Steelers Sept. 3 for a sixth-round draft pick in 2018.
He played sparingly, appearing in 12 games. He made three tackles and returned three kicks for an average of 23 yards.
Gilbert, 25, was due to make $2.1 million in 2017, including a $1.2-million roster bonus. By cutting him before paying the roster bonus, the Steelers are not on the hook for any of his 2017 salary. He still counts $1.9 million against Cleveland’s salary cap in 2017.
The Steelers paid him $786,682 in 2016.
The move comes despite team president Art Rooney II saying last week that improving the play of the secondary was one of the top priorities for the offseason.
“Pass defense is still an area that we need to look at,” said Rooney. “And certainly, getting pressure on the quarterback on a consistent basis is something that would help in that regard. We made some progress as the season went on, but I think it’s something we still need to be more consistent, getting pressure on the quarterback.”
The Steelers ranked 16th in pass defense this season, allowing 243 yards passing per game. That was an improvement from 2015, when they ranked 30th.
Much of that was because of the play of rookies Artie Burns and Sean Davis in the secondary at cornerback and strong safety, respectively. But the Steelers also saw improvement from third-year cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Veteran William Gay began the season as one of the starting cornerbacks but was moved to the slot after Burns got into the starting lineup.
Gilbert was never able to break into that rotation, seeing his most extensive playing time in a win over Kansas City early in the season, when he was used for a handful of plays in a dime defensive look against tight end Travis Kelce.
The release of Gilbert could mean the Steelers are confident that 2015 second-round draft pick Senquez Golson could be ready to assume a larger role next season.
Golson has yet to play a snap in the NFL, missing his rookie season with a should injury and last season with a foot injury suffered in training camp.