After losing veteran cornerback Cameron Sutton in the early stages of the legal tampering period to the Detroit Lions on a three-year, $33 million deal, the Pittsburgh Steelers pivoted quickly to sign veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson on the open market to a two-year, $14 million deal, attempting to shore up the position group with arguably the biggest area of need entering the offseason, even before losing Sutton.
Peterson, 33, still has some good football left in him and is coming off of a good 2022 season in which he recorded five interceptions and played more than 1,100 snaps. Despite him being a very recognizable name coming off of a good year overall, Pro Football Focus’ Seth Galina listed the Peterson signing as one of three “questionable fits” in an article Tuesday morning.
Along with Peterson, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the Raiders and wide receiver Jakobi Meyers to the Raiders were the other two questionable fits in Galina’s eyes.
“Peterson played well this past season but is not the best pure fit in Pittsburgh. The Vikings had him play zone 76% of the time he was in pass coverage last season, which was the 12th-highest rate by any cornerback in the league. Cameron Sutton, now of the Detroit Lions, took the top spot for the Steelers last year at 58% and 89th out of 119 cornerbacks,” Galina writes regarding the fit of Peterson with the Steelers from a scheme standpoint. “Going into his age-33 season, Peterson has a lot to offer as a veteran in terms of leadership, but his fifth-highest WAR among cornerbacks in 2022 might just have been a blip as he trends downward in the twilight of his career. Being in a zone-heavy system best suits him at this point. With that said, there’s no reason why the Steelers couldn’t support him schematically to bring out the best in him. The contract isn’t bad, either, as it can be just a one-year deal with limited dead cap if he’s cut after this season.
“After a really nice 2018 season with the Arizona Cardinals, Peterson in his next three seasons finished 54th, 73rd and 53rd in WAR among cornerbacks. This past season’s out-of-nowhere fifth-ranked finish was nice to see, but whether he can place even in the top 40 this season is anyone’s guess.”
Aside from the age concerns, the actual usage of Peterson in recent seasons compared to what the Steelers like to do is the biggest concern. As Galina points out, Peterson had good season in 2022 playing zone coverage 76% of the time in Minnesota. He won’t come close to that number in Pittsburgh as the Steelers have shifted to more of a man coverage scheme in recent seasons to catch up to the trends of today’s game.
That said, Pittsburgh will be able to get creative and play to Peterson’s strengths at this point in his career defensively, putting him in winnable situations with his skillset. He can still play man at this point in his career, but he’s not going to do it at the elite level he did earlier in his career.
As Peterson stated to reporters during his introductory press conference in Pittsburgh last week, he’s going to win with his mind more than his physical skills at this point in his career, largely because he’s seen it all and won’t be fooled.
We’ll see how that plays out on the field, but Peterson profiles as more of a high-end No. 2 corner at this point in his career, rather than the top corner he’ll be relied upon to be, at least in 2023.