Among the many players the Pittsburgh Steelers have under contract scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency in a few weeks, cornerback Cameron Sutton is one of the most important. The sixth-year veteran is coming off his best season and is expected to get a nice little pay raise.
According to the NFL Networks’ Next Gen Stats, he is one of the most notable “unheralded” players who should not be allowed to hit the open market. Meaning it argues that the Steelers should re-sign him before then.
Sutton “established a no-fly zone on the right side of the defense in 2022, allowing just 32 receptions on 72 targets”, an article on NFL.com argued. “His 44.4 percent completion rate allowed in coverage was the fifth-lowest by any defender with at least 50 targets in a season since 2016. While it will be hard for Sutton to repeat that performance, the Steelers would be wise to shore up their secondary by retaining this homegrown talent”.
The former third-round draft pick was unquestionably their best cornerback last season, certainly after they decided to move on from Joe Haden at the end of the 2021 season. He really started to come into his own the past two seasons after seeing increased opportunities.
As Alex Kozora argued yesterday, however, the question remains as to whether or not it would be wise for the Steelers to commit top cornerback money to him if his ceiling is not much higher than his current level of play. Which is quality, but not elite.
And one has to wonder how much it would decrease the likelihood of the team drafting a cornerback in the first round—something they’ve done only once in the past 25 years or so—if they were to commit an eight-figure salary to one player at the position.
Of course, they can’t afford to set their sights on just one position at the top of the draft. That’s how they ended up with Artie Burns in the first place. And if they were not to re-sign Sutton, then they would be like with Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Arthur Maulet as their starting trio pending an outside addition.
Now, the Steelers could target another outside free agent if they were to fail to retain Sutton. But they already went down that road last season with Wallace and Witherspoon. They need quality players, and re-signing Sutton is the surest way of guaranteeing that they have at least one entering the 2023 season.
It’s always a risk, naturally, not to re-sign one of your key starters. Sometimes the market forces your hand. I don’t know that it does in this case; the Steelers surely could find a way to re-sign him if they were serious enough about it.
It will be very interesting to see where his market is. After all, it’s been a while since a Steelers cornerback has gotten paid. Sutton will, without a doubt. The only question is who will be paying him. The league’s Next Gen Stats argue that it should be Pittsburgh.