Washington questions future with Steelers following demotion

Updated: November 5, 2003, 8:06 PM ET
ESPN

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers spent $72 million in signing bonuses over the last three years to keep coach Bill Cowher's team together. Cowher now might be taking the first step toward dismantling the very team he wanted.

Former starting cornerback Dewayne Washington is questioning his future with the Steelers, saying Wednesday that they won't keep paying him big money to sit on the bench.

Washington has started 92 consecutive Steelers games, including four in the playoffs, but will sit down Sunday against Arizona so sixth-year cornerback Deshea Townsend can make his ninth career start.

Washington, who has missed only one game in his 134-game NFL career, was disappointed by Cowher's decision to bench him but seemed to accept it. With the Steelers (2-6) stuck in a five-game losing streak, he knew that changes likely would be made to a team that began the season heavily favored to win the AFC North.

"The first eight games, I really haven't made any plays," Washington said. "My position's pretty black or white, either you make the play or you don't. ... It's a decision he probably felt like he needed to maybe cause a spark."

Cowher also questioned Washington's confidence, although the cornerback said that could have changed with one interception.

"The confidence thing? Maybe somewhat, but I still definitely want to line up and keep it going. I knew at one point a play was going to come my way, and that's just really all I needed," said Washington, who was benched for Townsend late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 23-16 loss at Seattle.

For now, Washington will play only on special teams. Rookie Ike Taylor will take Townsend's place in the nickel and dime defenses.

Washington knows that the Steelers aren't going to pay him $3.75 million in 2004 or $3 million to play special teams, and he seems resigned to a possible move to another team after this season. Washington would count $2.1 million against the Steelers' salary cap in both 2004 and 2005 should they release him after this season.

"If you look at it, I'm 30 years old, I'm making a lot of money on the team, so you draw your own conclusions," Washington said. "But I still feel like I can play this game. I don't question that at all. I've played the game for 9{ years and, after eight weeks, it's all of a sudden I can't play the game anymore?

"I still feel I can play this game at a high level for a few more years."

Cowher made the change even though the Steelers, at least statistically, have improved on defense since last season. They are No. 6 in passing yards allowed, a major improvement from their No. 20 ranking of last season. But they are fifth from the bottom in points allowed, a byproduct of the numerous turnovers that have repeatedly given their opponents prime field position.

Also, the Steelers have scored more than 20 points only twice since beating Baltimore 34-15 in their opener, which has put pressure on the defense to keep games close.

"If you look at the games, we haven't had leads, or big leads, or anything like that, but I'm not here to point fingers at coach, or the offense or special teams," Washington said. "It just comes down to me making plays."

Townsend, a fourth-round pick from Alabama in 1998, said the promotion means only that he gets to play on first down. He usually played on second and third downs as part of the nickel and dime units.

"If you're not ready to play when you go out there, that's your fault," he said. "I want to go out there and make the best of it and show them I'm able to be a starter in this league."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index