Steelers Cornerback Arrested, Charged with Firearm Offense

Justin Layne

Nic Antaya/Getty Images Donovan Peoples-Jones of the Cleveland Browns is tackled by Justin Layne of the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 03, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.

According to multiple reports, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Justin Layne was arrested early Friday morning in Willoughby Hills, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) and charged with multiple offenses, including improper handling of a firearm, which is a fourth-degree felony in Ohio.

Per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Layne was pulled over early Friday morning on Interstate 90 for driving 89 mph in a 60 mph zone. During the traffic stop, “officers said they saw marijuana residue in plain view and smelled the odor of marijuana in the vehicle…. Officer also said they saw a loaded 9 mm Glock handgun in the center console of the Dodge Charger that Layne was driving.”

There were two other males in the car with Layne, and “[d]uring interviews, it was determined that Layne would be the person charged for the improper handling of the firearm,” notes Ray Fittipaldo of the Post-Gazette.

None of the individuals were charged with a drug offense, but in addition to the firearm charge, Layne was also cited for speeding and for driving with a suspended license.

He is expected to appear in Willoughby Hills Municipal Court on Friday to face the charges.

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Mike Tomlin: Justin Layne ‘Distinguished Himself in a Positive Way’ in 2019

Layne, 23, was drafted by the Steelers in the third round in 2019 out of Michigan State (No. 83 overall) and appeared in ten games as a rookie, mostly on special teams. In May 2020, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin offered unsolicited praise of Layne, saying that “he distinguished himself in a positive way” as a rookie, and that he was expecting the 6-foot-2 cornerback to take a step forward in 2021.

But the expected improvement never quite materialized. Last summer Layne spent time on the team’s Reserve/COVID-19 list and in the fall undrafted rookie free agent James Pierre passed him on the depth chart. Now he is subject to possible discipline from the NFL under the Personal Conduct Policy as a result of the arrest and charges.


Layne Has the Opportunity to Compete for a Starting Cornerback Job

However, with the release of starting cornerback Steven Nelson and the loss of slot cornerback Mike Hilton to the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency, Layne would seem to have the opportunity to carve out a significant role for himself in 2021. While veteran Joe Haden is entrenched at one starting cornerback position, the other starting cornerback job is up for grabs. Yet Cameron Sutton—who recently signed a two-year contract extension—is definitely the front-runner for that role.

Layne’s primary competition for either a starting or backup role as a boundary cornerback is the aforementioned Pierre, who made the 53-man roster last year after signing with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent out of Florida Atlantic University.

The Steelers also have former Los Angeles Chargers starter Trevor Williams on a Reserve/Future contract, having added him to the practice squad prior to the team’s postseason game against the Cleveland Browns. Williams came into the NFL as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2016. He has suffered a variety of injuries during his career (knee, quad, ribs), and an inability to stay healthy ultimately led to his release by the Chargers.

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