Like most NFL teams, the Pittsburgh Steelers will need to answer multiple questions in free agency. First, they have to decide which pending unrestricted free agents of their own to attempt to re-sign.
Steelers owner Art Rooney II sounded like he’d prefer to bring a few of the team’s key pending free agents back for 2023. But he called out one player by name.
“We like to bring guys back if we can. We’ve spent time with those guys, particularly Cam Sutton,” Rooney said in an interview with Pittsburgh sports reporter Jenna Harner of WPXI on January 31. “We drafted Cam, and he’s developed as a Steeler, and I think he truly wants to come back. So, it’s great to be able to get those kind of guys back.
“Obviously, it depends a little bit on what the market says and what opportunities he might have and whether, how we make all these things fit within our salary cap constraints.”
Sutton has played six seasons in the NFL, all with the Steelers. In 84 career games, he’s posted 168 combined tackles, including 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, 38 pass defenses and 8 interceptions.
Sutton a Free Agency Priority for Steelers?
Including Sutton, the Steelers have four defensive starters set to hit free agency in March.
Starting linebacker Devin Bush, who was benched in the final three weeks of the season, should be considered a goner. But defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, safety Terrell Edmunds and Sutton were all key contributors to a Pittsburgh defense which played its best football at the end of the season.
Rooney didn’t mention Ogunjobi and Edmunds specifically during his interview with Harner, but the Steelers likely have re-signing them on their offseason wish list.
“Clearly there’s some guys that, our veteran guys, that we would like to bring back,” said Rooney.
Sutton, though, seems to be the priority. That’s to be expected, as he is coming off a career-best 3 interceptions and 15 pass defenses in 2022.
Coming to the Steelers as a third-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, Sutton began his career as a slot cornerback. He still plays in the slot, but he lines up in lots of different spots, rarely coming off the field.
In his 32 games since the start of the 2021 season, Sutton has been on the field for more than 96% of Pittsburgh’s defensive snaps. He played about 53% of the team’s defensive snaps in 16 games during 2020.
Sutton has excelled with more playing time the past two seasons. According to the player grades Pro Football Focus, he was the best Steelers cornerback and a Top 25 player at corner in the NFL during 2022.
Considering those achievements, it’s not a surprise the Steelers are treating him as an offseason priority.
Sutton’s Market Value Heading into Free Agency
But as Rooney noted, desire won’t be the final factor in whether Sutton returns to Pittsburgh. That will be the salary cap.
Spotrac projected Sutton’s market value to be nearly $23 million on a three-year contract. Such a deal would make Sutton’s average annual salary approximately $7.6 million.
NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported on January 30 that the NFL’s salary cap in 2023 will be a record $224.8 million, which is an increase of $16.6 million from the 2022 cap.
The Steelers aren’t in bad shape with that salary cap, but as of February 1, Spotrac reported they have only about $300,000 in space.
To make room for free agents such as Sutton, the Steelers have work to do. It can certainly be done, but the Steelers will have to make other tough choices up and down the roster to make bringing back Sutton, and some of the team’s other pending free agents, a reality.