In the first 26 hours of ‘free agency’, the Pittsburgh Steelers have already lost three of their own unrestricted free agents, including one that they were arguably expected to keep, that being defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, who will be returning to the Jacksonville Jaguars where he spent the first seven years of his career.
But they did manage so far to keep one key player around, that being Cameron Sutton. A third-round pick back in 2017, he is the first player from that draft class to sign an extension, though of course T.J. Watt will inevitably follow.
In fact, he is the first player the Steelers have drafted whom they have signed to an extension, not including tags, since Stephon Tuitt in 2014. And he is the first defensive back that the team has signed to a second deal since Cortez Allen, a fourth-round pick back in 2011.
I’m not breaking any news here in saying that the team has had its difficulties in successfully acquiring secondary talent through the draft. It’s been well-trodden territory for some time now, but the fact is that Sutton is now just the third defensive back drafted by Mike Tomlin to receive a meaningful second contract, behind William Gay and Keenan Lewis, the latter signing with New Orleans in free agency.
And it wasn’t without trying. Before Allen in the fourth round in 2011, they took Curtis Brown in the third round of the same class. Shamarko Thomas was a fourth-round pick in 2013. They used a second-round pick on Senquez Golson and a fourth-round pick on Doran Grant in 2015, and then first- and second-round picks on Artie Burns and Sean Davis, respectively, a year later.
Technically, Davis of course wound up back on the roster last year after originally signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Washington Football Team. But that was only because he was cut before opening day and they figured they could use an upgrade as their top backup safety over Curtis Riley. At the moment, there are no indications that they intend to re-sign him.
As for Cortez Allen, of course, we know how that ultimately worked out. Entering the 2014 season, he signed a four-year extension worth $24.6 million. He only made it halfway through that deal as injuries played a major part in derailing his career.
Sutton hopes to break that pattern. With it looking very likely the team will not retain Mike Hilton, he figures to move into the starting lineup as the nickel defender. Depending on what happens a year later, he could move to the outside, with both Joe Haden and Steven Nelson on the final years of their contracts.