2020 Offseason Positional Review – Cornerback

Joe Haden Steven Nelson

It’s that time of year again. Free agency is creeping up in just a couple of weeks, so before we get there, we’ll get going over the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster, position by position, making an assessment of what kind of shape they’re in, trying to figure out how they might, or should, attack the roster on that basis.

We’ll be suspending the Stock Watch series during this time, at the end of which we should have more meaningful topics to discuss once we resume, since a lot more news about free agency and its ripple effects should be current by then. In the meantime, we go back over the current makeup of the team’s roster, and assess where they are strong, or weak.

Position: Cornerback

Total Positional Figure: 7

Additions: 0

Deletions: 0

Players Retained:

Joe Haden: Had his best season in years at the age of 30, including five interceptions and a trip to the Pro Bowl. Improvements throughout the secondary in terms of talent upgrades are only boosted by his veteran leadership.

Steven Nelson: The biggest unrestricted free agent the team has ever signed, Nelson’s impact on the secondary and the defense as a whole was huge last season, solidifying a cornerback position that had been a red flag for the better part of a decade.

Mike Hilton: A nice bounceback year three for the slot cornerback, who continues to show that he is the most complete player in that role around the league. But he is a restricted free agent.

Cameron Sutton: Sutton got a bit more playing time this year, and stepped up his game nicely, but when Nelson missed a game, he wasn’t given the chance to start. Entering the final year of his rookie contract, how much of a role will he be allowed to have?

Artie Burns: A confirmed first-round bust, Burns is set to move on after four years in Pittsburgh in an arrangement both sides are quite satisfied to part from. He was a question mark to even make the roster in 2019 and never even threatened to regain his job, though he was allowed to be the number three outside corner in the event of injury.

Justin Layne: A 2019 third-round draft pick, Layne redshirted defensively, but gradually carved out a role on special teams in which he grew. By the end of the year, he even unseated Burns for a gameday helmet.

Alexander Myres: Originally signed immediately after the draft as a college free agent. He was waived  with a non-football illness designation early in training camp, but was signed back to the practice squad by the end of September, and retained on a futures contract.

Offseason Strategy:

As stated, Burns will depart in free agency. The Steelers will have to do whatever they can manage to make sure they retain Hilton, which will likely take a second-round restricted free agent tender. He would have to agree to a very team-friendly deal, especially in year one, to get the long-term contract he’s after.

It goes without saying that they won’t be in a position to add here in free agency, but the draft is always an option, especially with Sutton entering his final season. Cornerback is a position at which you can never have enough depth, and they’re still figuring out who Layne is.

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