While there are questions at a number of positions groups for the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason, many feel that none is greater than at cornerback. That their top corner, Cameron Sutton, is a pending unrestricted free agent doesn’t help matters.
Having completed a two-year, $9 million contract, the six-year veteran is likely to earn a new deal this offseason that should pay him more than that per season. Some have questioned whether the Steelers should be the team to pay that.
Among the reasons cited is the possibility that it would dissuade them from using their top pick to address the position. After all, if you pay a player top cornerback money, you should expect him to be that accordingly. Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, however, doesn’t believe that’s how Pittsburgh would approach the draft should they re-sign Sutton.
“If CB is the highest-graded player on their board at that time then I think they would, and I think that would be fine”, he said yesterday speaking with Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller on 93.7 The Fan, citing the fact that it gives a potential top cornerback the time to grow into the number one role. He also talked about the added flexibility it gives to move defensive backs around.
“Make no mistake, Cam Sutton is a big lynchpin to this offseason, but no, just because they sign him”, he said, doesn’t mean they wouldn’t draft a cornerback with their top pick. “Let’s say they sign him for $30 million over three years. That would not preclude them from drafting a corner at 17. I think there is still a need for a guy who can potentially develop into a number one corner on this team”.
If they do re-sign him to a substantial contract, which I believe a three-year, $30 million contract would qualify as, then using a top pick on the same position would be unprecedented for the Steelers in recent years.
Arguably the closest they have come to spending big in free agency on a position and then doubling down in the draft game in 2018. That year, they signed safety Morgan Burnett to a three-year, $14.35 million contract and then used their first-round pick on Terrell Edmunds. A year later, they signed inside linebacker Mark Barron to a two-year, $12 million deal and then traded up 10 spots in the first round to draft Devin Bush.
The Steelers needed two starters at inside linebacker that season, however, not one, and Burnett was signed with the understanding that he would likely be a bridge starter. If the Steelers re-sign Sutton, it would be as a long-term starter.
On the other hand, one can easily make the argument that they are in need of two starting cornerbacks. The Steelers are paying Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon each $4 million for the 2023 season. $8 million to spend on a pair of reserves or role players is a bit much, but they could cut one, even after the draft, if they want to shed some cap at the position at that time.
Notably, neither Burnett nor Barron saw the second years of their respective contracts, in case you needed reminding.