Given the fact that the salary cap ended up dropping by $15 million from the previous season, it’s not exactly a surprised that the Pittsburgh Steelers did end up having to cut a couple of players while retaining a few of their very many unrestricted free agents.
And, especially in hindsight, it’s not a shock that the front office went after one of the biggest salaries on the roster in Steven Nelson, who was due to make over $8 million in base salary in 2021 had he been allowed to play out the final year of his deal. According to Aditi Kinkhabwala, this did not come out of nowhere.
“Not that Steven Nelson is gone, because for quite some time, I’ve heard rumblings, that I’d been told this is a likely move in some way”, she said on the Poni and Mueller Show on Friday on 93.7 The Fan, when asked if he was surprised.
“I’ve talked to several people in the organization who feel that Cam Sutton will be an upgrade over Nelson at corner”, he elaborated a bit later when pressed. “Sutton also has a lot of flexibility. He can play both inside and outside. He’s a very heady player, good teammate, smart guy”.
Prior to releasing Nelson, the Steelers re-signed Sutton, a 2017 third-round draft pick, to a two-year, $9 million contract. He started seven out of 17 games last season, including three on the outside, and put together his best season.
With that said, it begs the question of why he wasn’t starting last year if he was seen as an upgrade. Assuming that these people do exist, then clearly they didn’t have enough power to make the move, or never spoke up about it—or realized it too late.
Barring some surprise signing or potentially a high draft pick who comes in and plays right away, Sutton will have an opportunity to prove his apparent supporters right by putting together a season that Nelson never has. He could start by picking off a few passes. He does have three career interceptions, but never had more than one in any given season.
One thing that Sutton has always had going for him is that he plays tight against his man in coverage. That allowed him to post a career-high nine breakups in 2020 during his most extensive playing time, which included one interception.
If he actually plays a full season of around 1000 or so snaps, give or take, perhaps he could push Joe Haden for the team lead in passes defensed as a guy who is perennially in the double-digit realm. Sutton set a school record in college for career passes defensed.