The Steelers had themselves an eventful Monday. The legal tampering period opened, and the Steelers lost both offensive lineman Matt Feiler and outside linebacker Bud Dupree to the Chargers and Titans respectively.
However, they were able to keep one of their own in cornerback Cam Sutton. Signing for a 2-year, $9 million extension, Sutton’s cap hit will not exceed even $3 million in the 2021 season. The structure of the contract is great, but the benefits of having Sutton back are even better.
Playing extensive time in the slot, as the dimebacker, as a deep safety, and as a boundary cornerback, Sutton was the do-it-all handyman for the Steelers the last two seasons. His role essentially allows the Steelers to function with their rotation-based coverages. It allows Minkah Fitzpatrick to be used as a ballhawk underneath. Terrell Edmunds can be freed up to cover tight ends with the assistance of Sutton working as a deep half safety. And when there is an injury to Joe Haden or Steven Nelson, Sutton can step in on the boundary.
This season, however, Sutton showcased a different side of his game. There was a certain physicality that was not there beforehand. Sutton was a bonafide playmaker. He set a career-high in pass breakups with seven and forced fumbles with three in limited snaps. Working in run support, Sutton was no Mike Hilton, but he was willing and a capable tackler. Should Hilton walk, they can still run slot blitzes thanks to Sutton’s growing development in this area.
It would seem given the two-year structure of the deal that Sutton starts in the slot this season. However, in 2022, Sutton has set himself up to get an opportunity to start on the boundary. Both Steven Nelson and Joe Haden are only under contract through the 2021 season. This seems like a multi-side bet from both sides here. It also sets the Steelers up to potentially extend Sutton a calendar year from now if they wish to do so when the cap should be more spacious.
Regardless, the Steelers needed to get one of Hilton or Sutton back. Sutton’s versatility and high football IQ are points that need to be lauded. He’s a more natural cover corner than Hilton as well with more fluid hips and better eye discipline. From the Steelers’ point of view, this move made a little too much sense.
Sutton was rightfully priority number one given the Steelers cap situation. While they lost two starters, retaining Sutton on an affordable deal was an underrated win for the Steelers on the first day of free agency.