Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said that he is “disappointed” in cornerback Justin Layne after the third-year player was arrested in Ohio last month on a felony gun charge and plead guilty to a misdemeanor on Wednesday, but seemed to indicate that he expects Layne to return to the team this fall.
Appearing on The Cook and Joe Show on 93.7 The Fan on Thursday for his first public comments since Layne’s plea arrangement Wednesday, but said he remains among the players the Steelers are looking at to replace departed slot corner Mike Hilton.
“We certainly are disappointed,” Colbert said. “I hope he’s learned from it and I hope he’s ready to move on. The legal system will take care of itself as it did. The league system will take care of itself and we’ll adjust accordingly, but we need Justin to take another step as a football player, as well.”
Colbert mentioned Layne, second-year player James Pierre and sixth-round rookie Tre Norwood as possibilities to step into the absences created when Nickel corner Mike Hilton left in free agency and starter Steven Nelson was cut for salary cap purposes, shifting Dime corner Cam Sutton into a starting role.
But he Colbert did acknowledge the possibility that Layne could be fined or suspended by the league, and may be unavailable for at least part of the start of the season.
“You can never anticipate what the league will do,” he said. “There’s no written rules on what they can do. They could suspend him, they could fine him. We’ll just adjust accordingly on whatever happens.”
Layne played in all 16 games in 2020 and made 22 tackles for the Steelers. He appeared in 117 snaps on defense in his first career action outside of special teams, but ceded playing time to Pierre down the stretch of the season, with head coach Mike Tomlin acknowledging before the draft that Pierre, the former undrafted free agent, had surpassed Layne by the Steelers’ playoff game in January.
Layne, 23, was the Steelers’ third-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft out of Michigan State. He was arrested after being pulled over for speeding in Willoughby Hills, Ohio, just outside his hometown of Cleveland, on April 23.
Officers discovered that Layne had a warrant out for failing to appear in court for a previous violation and when processing his vehicle to be impounded, found a loaded handgun that Layne did not have a permit to carry. Layne was charged with a fourth-degree felony but plead to a lesser charge on Wednesday.
As part of the plea arrangement, Layne must forfeit the firearm, attend a gun safety course, pay a $500 fine and perform 32 hours of community service. He will have a 180-day jail sentence suspended in lieu of six months’ probation.