The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should get Cameron Sutton extended before the regular season starts.
Explanation: Sort of the forgotten man as part of the early 2017 draft picks, overshadowed by Pro Bowlers in T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and James Conner, cornerback Cameron Sutton has had a slow but somewhat steady ascent over the course of his first three seasons, but now enters the final year of his rookie contract.
This is a situation not dissimilar to Vince Williams a handful of years ago when it was apparent that we may have seen the end of the line for Lawrence Timmons. Entering the end of his rookie contract, and knowing that he may start, the Steelers locked him in for a modest contract, and Timmons ended up walking in free agency the next year.
We’re not quite there are cornerback, as both Joe Haden and Steven Nelson have two years left on their contracts, but you never know how many years a cornerback has left once they hit 30, and Haden is already there. Yes, he had a strong season in 2019, but see Ike Taylor for how precipitously the fall can come.
Sutton is a guy who has the potential to start, and is capable of playing all throughout the secondary. He’s bound to find a sizable role in the defense sooner or later, and in the meantime, while he waits out an opportunity, he provides critical depth at such a hugely important position.
First thing’s first, and that’s cost. Sutton knows he has a chance to hit free agency in 2021, and there’s always the potential that he could have that opportunity to raise his stock this season. Why sign for cheap now?
Then there’s the already-mentioned fact that Haden and Nelson are locked in for at least the next two years. Nelson could be here for the long term, at least, while Haden certainly looked like he had fresh life in him in 2019.
Let’s not forget about Justin Layne. He was arguably a better prospect coming out, but less polished. There is reason to be optimistic about his ability to contribute (though not necessarily his opportunity to contribute) in 2020 as the next cornerback in line.
In a year with limited cap space, this is a question better left off until next year unless it can be done on a very team-friendly and cheap deal. There are too many unknowns about his future yet, and unlike Williams, he’s not guaranteed to be a valuable player on special teams or anything like that.