Three-year veteran cornerback Ike Taylor, whose fourth-quarter interception in Super Bowl XL set up the clinching touchdown for the Pittsburgh Steelers, on Tuesday signed the one-year restricted free-agent qualifying offer the team made him two months ago.
The one-year deal is worth $1.573 million and, barring a contract extension, Taylor will be eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring.
A fourth-round selection in the 2003 draft, Taylor became a full-time starter last season after only two starts in his first two years in the league. The former Louisiana-Lafayette standout not only solidified the left cornerback spot for Pittsburgh but also emerged as one of the NFL's best young coverage defenders. Certainly the Steelers coaches view him as their best pass defender.
In 16 appearances and 15 starts, Taylor registered 96 tackles, one of the top five totals in the league for a cornerback. He also had one interception, a team-high 25 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries.
After being picked on by Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck early in Super Bowl XL and dropping one ball right in his hands in the second quarter, Taylor intercepted a pass that was intended for Seahawks wide receiver Darrell Jackson early in the fourth quarter. The interception thwarted a drive that had reached the Pittsburgh 27-yard line. The Steelers, leading only 14-10 at the time, scored four plays later on the reverse pass from Antwaan Randle El to Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward to secure the victory.
In the team's four postseason wins, Taylor was outstanding, posting 31 tackles, a pair of interceptions and five passes defensed. His seven tackles in the Super Bowl led the team. For his career, Taylor has 125 tackles, two interceptions, 32 passes defensed and two fumble recoveries in 45 games.
Pittsburgh coaches point to Taylor's impressive playoff performance as an indicator of his maturity and burgeoning confidence.
Taylor, 25, has excellent size (6-feet-1, 190 pounds) and speed and is very aggressive in support against the run. His one obvious shortcoming is his suspect hands, and he dropped several interception opportunities during the season. That said, he will be a very attractive player in free agency next spring, if he gets onto the open market.
There were rumors this spring that several teams, including Washington, might attempt to sign Taylor to a restricted free-agent offer sheet. But the deadline for offers sheets passed on April 15 without any franchise following through, and Taylor's exclusive negotiating rights reverted to the Steelers.
Last month, Pittsburgh officials and representatives for Taylor discussed the possibility of a long-term contract. The Steelers may resume those negotiations before Taylor qualifies for unrestricted free agency.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.