Minkah Fitzpatrick will return in 2021. The rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ secondary, however, may look a lot different. It’s possible the team loses cornerbacks Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton in the offseason. Both are pending free agents and won’t be cheap to retain. Speaking to reporters Thursday, Fitzpatrick discussed the value each man brings.
“They both mean a whole lot,” he said via the team’s YouTube channel. “They do a lot for us. Mike, he’s a nickel but he has qualities that not a lot of nickels have across the league. He’s a physical guy, but he can also cover. He can even blitz. He tackles very well.”
Hilton is among the NFL’s best run-stopping and blitzing cornerbacks. In his four years with the Steelers, he’s racked up a whopping 30 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Since 2017, only he and Jamal Adams have accomplished that. Hilton isn’t an elite cover corner but a good one and had a strong season there in 2020. His QB rating against in the regular season was an excellent 40.4, one of the best numbers of anyone in the Steelers’ secondary.
Hilton figures to be the more expensive cornerback of the two. A baseline contract for him is the four-year, $33 million extension the Colts’ Kenny Moore signed prior to the 2019 season. Even given the league’s current financial hardships, Hilton figures to cost no less than $7 million per season.
Fitzpatrick also praised Sutton’s versatility.
“In Cam, he’s a very versatile guy. A lot of times the last two seasons since I’ve been here, he’s been a guy that if somebody goes down, he pretty much fills in the role, no matter what position it was. Whether it’s been a corner nickel or a safety…that’s been extremely helpful in a league like this where guys go down all the time.”
Sutton was drafted largely because of his football IQ and versatility. He reportedly blew the team away with his knowledge of the Volunteers’ defense when he met with the coaching staff prior to the 2017 draft. He’s carried that over into the NFL, lining up all over the field when there’s been a gameplean tweak or an injury to address. According to our charting, Sutton’s lined up at the following spots this season:
– Dime Backer (196 snaps)
– LCB (171 snaps)
– NCB (139 snaps)
– RCB (40 snaps)
– SS (29 snaps)
– FS (1 snap)
Losing Sutton doesn’t leave a void at one position. It leaves a void at several spots and stresses the depth of the team.
Fitzpatrick says he hopes the Steelers find a way of keeping both players.
“I love them both to death. It’d be great if both of them could come back with us next season.”
Unfortunately, that’s wishful thinking. Keeping both is almost impossible to happen. Doing so would require cutting Joe Haden and probably others. The most likely scenario is just one returning. Sutton figures to be the cheaper option, making him the more likely name to re-sign.