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: Cornerback is a need that should be talked about more than it is.
Explanation: While the Steelers have arguably the best group of cornerbacks that they have had in over a decade, one has to wonder how long is its shelf life. With Joe Haden already over 30 and both Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton in the final years of their current contracts, it may be wise to invest now for 2021 and beyond.
Let’s start off by pointing out that, right now, Haden’s 2019 season stands more as an outlier than anything else, and is also somewhat inflated by his turnover numbers, some of which were of low-level difficulty. He still dropped a few, as he had been doing his first couple of years in Pittsburgh.
While he signed a two-year contract extension prior to the start of the season, the cornerback position is one that is vulnerable to precipitous decline. Some thought that Haden was already near the end before he even signed with the Steelers. 2019 was a strong season for him, but doesn’t predict that 2020 will be, let alone 2021 or 2022.
As it stands, it seems unlikely that Sutton will be in Pittsburgh after 2020, and Hilton’s future is also unclear. He will be looking for a long-term contract this offseason, but they may not have the cap space to do it. It will be hard enough just to give him his restricted free agent tender. Justin Layne, meanwhile, is a wildcard. So it absolutely makes sense to start looking at rebuilding the position now before it’s too late.
With limited resources this offseason, both in cap space and draft resources, there are too many more important areas to address to worry about a position that is currently strong in cornerback. Steven Nelson could be a long-term find and as it will be around for at least another two years, as will Haden, who will still be a quality option even if he regresses some. Let’s not forget the impact of the improved safety play as well.
As for Hilton, he doesn’t have the same stature as even a Tavon Young. He’s not going to reset then nickel market or anything. He just wants some long-term security. There’s no reason to think 2020 will be his last in Pittsburgh. It could be for Sutton, but that’s what Layne was drafted for. Let’s see what he has in year two first before sounding the alarm.