Truth be told, the news that the Pittsburgh Steelers were granting cornerback Steven Nelson the right to seek a trade was significantly more surprising than the fact that they were able to bring back wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on a one-year contract. We at least knew that they would like to re-sign Smith-Schuster. Moving on from Nelson—not as clear.
But after reading the news, I couldn’t help but remember something that fellow cornerback Cameron Sutton recently said after he was interviewed on SiriusXM following his re-signing with the team on a two-year contract worth $9 million.
Presumably, he had been re-signed to take over in the slot with Mike Hilton departing to join the Cincinnati Bengals. It was always going to be a one-or-the-other situation with those two, and Sutton started four games in the slot last season when Hilton was injured—but he also has several starts on the outside over the course of his career.
And the Steelers drafted him to play outside, or at least to have the opportunity to do so. But they signed Joe Haden the same year they drafted him, and then they signed Nelson in 2019 when Artie Burns went bust up. Sutton hadn’t gained a foothold by then, so they couldn’t count on him to be a full-time outside starter.
Thus, he was forced to develop versatility over the course of his Steelers career, a role he came to embrace. “Getting my feet wet in those roles and having the comfortability of moving around in those roles already in my time alone—I’ve seen so much”, he said on SiriusXM.
“In some form or fashion, as we’ve seen over four years, I’ve had to partake in those roles, and they’re only going to expand”, was a slightly earlier comment—emphasis mine. Assuming that they move on from Nelson this year, Sutton is going to start on the outside and then move into the slot in the nickel.
And once we get into sub-packages, he could be moved anywhere, with either James Pierre or Justin Layne, or perhaps even a draft pick, lining up on the outside. But the fact that Sutton already talked about his need to be versatile expanding, right after signing a deal that presumably would have led to him replacing Hilton, was interesting.
I noted it at the time that I heard the interview. After yesterday’s news, it strikes a bit of a different note, and leads me to believe that he probably knew that the team was at least considering this route. Nelson, in hindsight, seemed to imply something was going on through his Twitter feed, so it’s very unlikely this suddenly came up in the past 24 hours.