The Pittsburgh Steelers have more than a dozen and a half players who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents in about two weeks’ time. They won’t have a shot at re-signing perhaps every one of their big-name free agents. They may be lucky to be able to re-sign only a very small handful of the remaining.
When it comes to that sort of lower end, middle class level of free agent, much of the focus for the Steelers has been paid to the cornerbacks, as their number three and number four players at the position have both completed their fourth years, with their contracts running out.
That would be Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton, the former a college free agent, the latter a third-round pick. Hilton has been their nickel starter throughout that time, while Sutton has played a variety of utility roles, but started numerous games last season due to injury while taking on a more active dime role.
Jeremy Fowler of ESPN made an appearance on 93.7 The Fan yesterday in order to discuss the Steelers from a variety of angles, and at one point during the interview, was asked what he expects the team to do at cornerback.
“Cam Sutton to me is more of a wildcard. They’re gonna want to re-sign him, but more of at like a hybrid price”, he said, “like the guy who started some, can play in the slot, can play outside, but isn’t like a full-time outside starter, where Sutton I think would rather tests the market and see what other teams look at him like as more of a solidified starter. I could see him coming back, but it depends on what he gets from another team”.
Sutton played in 16 games last season, starting six, at both right and left inside linebacker and in the slot, due to injuries for Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, and Hilton. He logged a career-high 422 snaps last season, finishing with 30 tackles, an interception, and three forced fumbles, with eight passes defensed, a sack, and a recovered fumble.
Haden has two years left on his contract, while Nelson has one. Justin Layne is entering his third season as a former third-round draft pick, who had yet to carve out much of a defensive role. In fact, in the wildcard game, rookie undrafted free agent James Pierre actually saw time in the dime over Layne while Haden was out.
In other words, it would certainly behoove the Steelers to get at least one of these young cornerbacks signed so that they can have a slot defender they can trust. Sutton would likely be the cheaper option, but from what it sounds like, he’d at least like to see what’s out there, given that he is capable of playing outside—whereas Hilton is not.