The Problem With CB Cam Sutton

Cornerback Cam Sutton is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest pending free agent. He should take priority place on the team’s re-sign list. I’ve long been a fan of Sutton’s game ever since watching him impress at the 2017 Senior Bowl, switching between corner and safety with the football IQ to play both well.

Since being drafted, Sutton’s game – and role – has grown. From backup to dimebacker to starting outside corner, he’s greatly improved as a tackler and gotten more comfortable playing on the outside against top-flight receivers. Like his ability, his paycheck is going to grow, too.

And that’s the issue.

Not the mere fact of paying him. He deserves a monster raise. If anything, he’s played on the cheap the last two years and in 2022, you could argue he was one of the best “value” corners in football, excluding ones stuck on rookie deals. He’s due good money and be it Pittsburgh or someone else, he’ll get it.

But how much is too much? That’s the question that’s been rattling around in my head, a point I’ve made mention of on the podcast several times. The catch-all of a “#1 corner” can be overblown and too undefined but I view it as someone you trust to take on the top receivers in football. Those guys don’t grow on trees but that’s sorta the point. Only those guys deserve to get paid top money.

Obviously, the market sets value and an increased salary cap bumps up salaries. Sutton signed his last deal at an unfortunate time during the COVID cap crunch of 2020, forcing the Steelers to use voidable years to make the money work. It’s a structure they likely won’t use again, not with Sutton. As Dave Bryan has argued, Sutton could earn $13-14 million per season. It’s well-reasoned. Last year, the San Francisco 49ers paid CB Charvarius Ward $13.5 million per year, three years at 40.5 million, and Sutton’s arguably a better player.

Sutton is a good corner. He’s coming off a very good season. But is he worth that borderline Top 10 money? Is Sutton the guy that can take on the Bengals’ Ja’Marr Chase twice a year? The guy who will change Pittsburgh’s approach and have a corner shadow and play a man, not a side? And don’t tell me the Steelers couldn’t do that next year – Levi Wallace is comfortable playing either spot.

If Sutton isn’t that guy, is it worth paying him that type of money? And if you do sign him for that amount, the cornerback room is still feeling a bit…empty.

We just paid a corner $14 million per season…ok, now let’s go find a #1 corner in the draft.

That just feels off but it’d be the reality of the room. Signing Sutton wouldn’t preclude me from considering taking Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, South Carolina’s Cam Smith, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. at #17. In past years, the Steelers have double-dipped with free agents and high draft picks, Morgan Burnett/Terrell Edmunds one of several examples, but never at the price tag Sutton might be due.

None of this is to say Sutton shouldn’t be re-signed. I’d love to have him back. He provides a ton of value and flexibility, being able to rotate in inverted coverages that help spin Minkah Fitzpatrick down in Robber/Lurk coverage and Sutton is an excellent slot corner. Though if you’re paying him $14 million per year, I don’t know how much you want that guy playing in the slot. That’s outside money.

I’m just saying the Sutton deal is a little tricky. If I could wave a magic wand, getting Sutton for something in that $10-11 million range would be preferred. Maybe that could still happen. He seemed to take a little less money in 2020 and there have been past Steelers, like Ramon Foster, who appeared to take a hometown discount to stay. Even $10 million per year would more than double his previous contract.

If it takes $13-14 million to get a deal done, it’s probably worth doing. Paying the couple extra million per year is preferable to the consequences of losing and needing to replace him. It’s just a tricky needle to thread. Paying a guy top money while believing the room still needs a top-level guy.

Put the odds of Sutton at re-signing with Pittsburgh above 50%. If it happens, I’ll be curious to the see the number and the structure of the deal and how the organization approaches the cornerback room going forward.

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