Farabaugh: Does Patrick Peterson Offer Steelers Replacement for Cam Sutton?
The Pittsburgh Steelers did a little swap action at cornerback on Monday, agreeing to a deal with 8-time Pro Bowl CB Patrick Peterson just hours after prized cornerback Cam Sutton walked and decided to sign with the Detroit Lions for a hefty contract.
Both moves were something no one saw coming, as Sutton was publicly touted as someone the Steelers badly wanted back in 2023 and beyond. Meanwhile, the Steelers almost always signed players below the age of 30 on defense. So, Peterson, who is 32, came as a curious signing.
Let’s get this out of the way first. Losing Sutton is a blow that the Steelers are going to feel regardless of the Peterson signs or not. There are thoughts I have on Peterson that I’ll get to later, but no one player is replacing Sutton. Why? His versatility allowed him to be an incredibly valuable chess piece.
Sutton played everything from outside cornerback to low safety to slot cornerback. It left Pittsburgh without a starting outside cornerback, but even with Peterson onboard, they lack the passing down slot cornerback to relieve Arthur Maulet of those duties when asked to do so.
A 3-year, $33 million extension would not have been out of the realm of possibility for Sutton, either. That seems quite reasonable. However, the guaranteed money could be where the Steelers and Sutton got caught up. Either way, they lose a versatile player coming off his best season as a cover cornerback.
Sutton’s 5 interceptions and 15 pass deflections were a career-high. He surrendered a career-low passer rating allowed. Everything that he put out on the field in 2022 was rewarded in free agency. However, it leaves a big hole for the Steelers to replace both with his versatilty and playmaking ability. Sutton could work in zone or man and might have been the smartest player in the entire Steelers locker room.
So, where does Patrick Peterson come into the picture? At this point in his career, he is no longer the electric speedy player that could cover anyone in the NFL. However, he has plenty of value. As a pure zone cornerback, Peterson is a dynamite who still has great eyes and can make plays on the ball. He had 5 interceptions and 17 pass deflections in 2022 and that tracks with his general playmaking ability in general.
He often relied upon the zone coverage that Ed Donatell ran to shield some of his man coverage weaknesses. However, he did see a low target in his man coverage reps. But the Steelers ran man coverage the 4th-most out of any team in the NFL last season, leaving Peterson in an odd spot.
Patrick Peterson was targeted just 9 times on 111 man coverage snaps in 2022, allowing 3 receptions for 30 yards.
Peterson was the only outside cornerback to be targeted on fewer than 12% of his man coverage snaps last season (8.1%, min. 100 man coverage snaps).#HereWeGo https://t.co/gjxQSfQpyh pic.twitter.com/cRZO3xdxLF
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) March 13, 2023
One part that you can not overlook here is that Peterson will replace Sutton’s veteran presence in the locker room. With the Steelers likely to make an upgrade in the NFL Draft as well, expect that Peterson is the mentor and leader of a cornerback room that could use some guidance to it.
In many ways, you can compare this signing to the late-career signing of Joe Haden. Haden was a veteran who could add some mentorship to the room. But this should in no way deter Pittsburgh from making a splash in the draft and adding to this room once again. It needs some help to round itself into a high-upside room.
But Peterson’s contract details are not fully out just yet, either. So, that leaves some ambiguity to this whole situation. It is a multi-year deal, and that seems to be something he wanted. However, keep an eye on the coverages the Steelers run. Peterson can not be overexposed in man coverage. So, this could signal more of a shift to a two-high, zone coverage scheme. It would not be foreign to either Mike Tomlin or Teryl Austin to find that in their scheme either.
But Patrick Peterson, as long as the contract is not overly expensive, does make some sense. That mentorship is valuable, and Peterson is coming off his best season since 2018, according to his PFF grade. If that trend can hold and Peterson can give them just quality snaps, the signing should be a fine one.