A big offseason for the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers awaits as the franchise sees more than 20 players set to enter free agency, and a number of holes to be plugged in free agency and through the 2023 NFL Draft.
For ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, one way the Steelers can nail the offseason and improve their roster is by releasing a handful of players to open up salary cap space, and then retaining free agent cornerback Cameron Sutton.
According to Barnwell, those players that need to be released by the Steelers include cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III, along with quarterback Mitch Trubisky, opening up roughly $24 million in cap space, which would give the Steelers plenty of room to not only retain Sutton, but be active in free agency in an attempt to add some depth in the trenches.
“I’d like to see the Steelers use those savings to bring back Sutton, their top corner from a year ago. He is a 2017 third-round pick who only broke into the starting lineup for good during his fifth year with the team, but 2022 was his best season,” Barnwell writes regarding the Steelers’ retention of Sutton. “He allowed a 56.7 passer rating as the nearest defender in coverage at cornerback, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranked as the fifth-best mark for corners with at least 250 coverage snaps. The Steelers almost always played sides at corner, so Sutton wasn’t chasing around opposing top wideouts, but the 28-year-old more than held his own on the right side of the defense.
“Sutton’s unique career path makes his market difficult to forecast, but we’ve seen corners with limited track records as above-average starters get paid in recent seasons. I’d look toward the three-year, $33 million deal D.J. Reed signed with the Jets last offseason as a baseline for Sutton, but I would expect Sutton’s new deal to come in closer to $14 million per season, given his level of play a year ago and the rise in the salary cap. With second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett on his rookie contract, the team should be able to afford a new deal for their top corner.”
It’s hard to envision Sutton getting $14 million per year, especially if he doesn’t hit the open market. Instead, he’ll likely be closer to $10 or $11 million a year, which would be a great contract for not only him, but the Steelers moving forward as well.
Though he is 28 years old, Sutton has very few miles on his body overall, at least defensively, playing more than 2,000 snaps in the last two seasons combined, but playing just over 1,000 in the four previous seasons combined.
His development has been rather remarkable overall for the Steelers, going from a third-round pick that didn’t see the field early on into a legitimate shutdown cornerback that he became in 2022, finishing with a career-high 15 passes defensed and three interceptions overall.
Retaining Sutton will go a long way towards getting the offseason off to a strong start. He’s a key starter for a defense that aims to be the best in the league in 2023, assuming health. Losing that type of player sets the defense back and would cause them to start over entirely at cornerback once again, especially if Witherspoon and Jackson are cut to open cap space.
We’ll see what Sutton’s contract ultimately comes out to be as far as numbers and length go, but it’s expected that the Steelers will get something done with the veteran cornerback before free agency starts, not allowing him to hit the open market.