The Pittsburgh Steelers have decisions to make about several of their own pending free agents, including five starters, but if they want to re-sign starting cornerback Cam Sutton, they should make that move their priority.
The free agent contact period doesn’t start until the middle of March, so the Steelers have plenty of time to figure out what they want to do with most of their pending free agents. When it comes to guys like Devin Bush, Terrell Edmunds, Larry Ogunjobi and Robert Spillane, it will most likely be closer to that opening date of free agency — or after — before we get an update.
But there is a unique incentive for the Steelers to move quickly when it comes to Sutton. When the Steelers signed Sutton a contract extension ahead of the 2021 season, they used a concept called void years.
For salary cap purposes, the signing bonus of a contract can be spread out over the lifetime of a deal, but it must be spread out evenly. The Steelers were in a big salary cap crunch in 2021 and wanted to drive Sutton’s cap cost for that season down as much as possible.
So when they agreed to a $3.5 million signing bonus with Sutton for his two-year contract, they made it a five-year contract instead. Sutton’s signing bonus counted for $700,000, or one-fifth of the total, in both 2021 and 2022. The Steelers still owe the other $2.1 million. (They only owe it to the salary cap. Sutton has already been paid the money).
Now, Sutton only agreed to a two-year deal. So his contract with the Steelers will void just after the Super Bowl (Feb. 17, according to Spotrac) this February. It will function like the Steelers cut Sutton while still having $2.1 million in deferred singing bonus on his contract, and that entire total will go against the team’s 2023 salary cap.
Now, $2.1 million isn’t a deal-breaker for any NFL team, representing less than 1% of the 2023 salary cap. But if the Steelers can find a way to come to a deal on a contract extension with Sutton before his contract automatically voids, they can spread those $2.1 million out over the remaining years as his contract originally intended.
It doesn’t sound like Sutton would be too averse to singing quickly. When asked if he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh after the end of the 2022 season, he seemed certain.
“For sure,” Sutton said. “This is home. This has been home to me since the beginning. There’s a strong foundation and it’s just really solid here. A lot of love for all the aspects here and the city as a whole. Like I said, we’ll see what that looks like obviously, when the opportunity comes.”
The Steelers have more than just some minor cap savings to incentivize them re-singing Sutton, as well. Sutton fully bloomed into the team’s No. 1 corner in 2022, moving between the slot and the outside corner and even shadowing top receivers when necessary.
The Steelers have a lot of moving parts in their secondary this offseason, with safeties Edmunds and Damontae Kazee both free agents and corners Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III both owed big money after injury-ruined seasons.
But no matter what else the Steelers and Omar Khan decide what they want to do in the secondary, brining back Sutton seems like a no-brainer.