With the Steelers’ 2023 offseason underway following a disappointing season that came up just short of reaching the playoffs, it’s time to begin reloading, through the free agency process, through the draft, and perhaps even through trade.
This is now a young team on the offensive side of the ball, though one getting older on defense, and both sides could stand to be supplemented robustly, including in the trenches—either one. Changes have been made to the coaching staff, even if not all of the desired ones, as the roster continues to renew with the weeks ticking by.
These sorts of uncertainties are what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
Topic Statement: The Steelers must find another coverage option in the slot before the 2023 season.
Explanation: With Cameron Sutton now in Detroit and replaced by Patrick Peterson, the Steelers’ secondary has gotten less versatile. While Arthur Maulet is a slot cornerback with a diverse skill set, coverage is not his strength, and the team has even removed him from the field for obvious passing situations.
The answer is not only absolutely yes but also ‘it’s about time’. The thing is, the Steelers have not had a great slot coverage defender since William Gay. Mike Hilton was and is great at what he does, but pure coverage, particularly in man, was always the weakest part of his game.
And Arthur Maulet is just another Mike Hilton-type player, only less accomplished in every area. The current alternatives to Maulet on the roster are not enticing and include sliding free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick down.
For all the talk of adding a blue-chip outside cornerback prospect in the first round, the Steelers can’t forget about the many great slot weapons around the league who have been burning them in coverage situations for years. Their options are now at a critically low point. Who do you want on this current roster covering Tyler Boyd and Cooper Kupp?
While of course it would be preferable to be able to add a true slot cornerback to the roster whose strength is playing in coverage, it is not such a priority that they can’t get by without it. After all, they’re hardly worse off than they were a year ago, since Cameron Sutton didn’t really play in the slot in 2022.
Patrick Peterson has expressed not only a willingness but a desire to be moved around the field more, and it’s not uncommon for cornerbacks at his stage of career to transition into more nickel situations, so that is one possibility.
The Steelers also often talk up the diversity of their defensive backs. Outside of Fitzpatrick, they have a number of safeties who are able to move around, namely Damontae Kazee and Tre Norwood. Keanu Neal could also be used to help move the other pieces around. Oh, and by the way, it’s not like Maulet didn’t make some nice plays on the ball last season. Perhaps we aren’t giving him as much credit as we should.