Steelers’ Addition of All-Pro Defender Named ‘Least Favorite’ Free Agent Signing

Mike Tomlin

Getty Mike Tomlin coaches from the sideline.

After the Pittsburgh Steelers lost cornerback Cameron Sutton to the Detroit Lions in free agency, the organization moved quickly to fill the void by adding 8-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. But not all NFL observers believe the former No. 5 overall pick is a great fit for the Steelers.

Moreover, Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus (PFF) believes that filling Sutton’s shoes will be easier said than done.

PFF: ‘Cornerback Remains the Steelers’ Top Need’

“The departing Cameron Sutton earned a career-best 72.2 grade in 2022, allowing just 0.76 yards per coverage snap, which ranked 11th among cornerbacks with at least 200 coverage snaps on the season,” offers Spielberger, who believes “cornerback remains the Steelers’ top need by a solid margin,” even after the addition of Peterson on a two-year, $14 million contract.

In fact, Spielberger regards the Peterson signing as his “least favorite” among Pittsburgh’s moves in free agency, noting that the 13-year veteran “seemed to benefit from a lot of off-zone coverage in Minnesota,” which the Steelers employ much less frequently.

But one expects that the Steelers have a specific plan for maximizing whatever Peterson has left in the tank, and in 2022 he demonstrated that he’s still a playmaker, starting all 17 games for the Vikings and contributing five interceptions and 15 passes defensed. He also had 66 total tackles (56 solo), including three tackles for loss, according to Pro Football Reference.

One possibility is that the Steelers utilize him at safety, or frequently employ inverted coverages that allow him to play in a safety-like role. It’s hard to ignore that Peterson — who turns 33 on July 11, 2023 — has a lot of mileage on his tires, so to speak, having started 184 regular-season games, including 154 for the Arizona Cardinals (2011-2020) and another 30 for the Minnesota Vikings (2021-22).

It’s also worth noting that he made the Pro Bowl during each of the first eight seasons of his career (earning first-team All-Pro honors three times), but hasn’t been named to the Pro Bowl since 2018. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2018 was the last year he served as a punt returner, a role he excelled at early in his career. Most notably, he returned 44 punts for 699 yards and four touchdowns during his rookie season, averaging 15.9 yards per return.

All told, Peterson has recorded 34 career interceptions and 111 passes defensed, along with 610 total tackles, two forced fumbles, 12 fumble recoveries, four sacks and four quarterback hits.

Isaac Seumalo Named a ‘Favorite’ Free Agent Signing

On the other hand, Spielberger really likes Pittsburgh’s addition of former Philadelphia Eagles guard Isaac Seumalo, one of several offensive linemen the Steelers signed in free agency.

“Seumalo was the top guard available on our free agent board, and while his age and injury history may have limited his market a bit, Pittsburgh still did very well here,” contends the PFF analyst, before adding that “Seumalo earned a career-high 75.2 overall grade and his third straight 77.0-plus pass-blocking grade in 2022. Notably, this career year was Seumalo’s first starting on the right side after years of predominantly excelling as a left guard, which goes to show his versatility and talent.”