“The Steelers have had major issues in their secondary, especially at cornerback,” notes Marcus Mosher of Pro Football Focus (PFF) in his recent Top 25 ranking of NFL cornerbacks. They have “one reliable player at the position,” he argues. Unfortunately for the Steelers, that player — Cam Sutton — figures to be one of the more attractive unrestricted free agents come March 2023.
Steelers’ Cam Sutton a Top 20 UFA
Specifically, Brad Spielberger of PFF has Sutton among the top 20 pending unrestricted free agents available — and one of the top 3 cornerbacks, with the other relevant CBs being Jamel Dean of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and James Bradberry of the Philadelphia Eagles.
“Sutton has quietly continued to excel in a coverage unit that has otherwise been very exploitable this season in Pittsburgh, with 2022 just his second season as a full-time starter on the outside,” begins Spielberger. “Sutton signed a two-year, $9 million deal in 2021 that he has outplayed thus far, earning a 72.7 coverage grade and allowing just 284 receiving yards in 2022 — the fifth-fewest among cornerbacks with at least 300 coverage snaps on the season.”
The fact that Sutton — a former third-round pick out of Tennessee (No. 94 overall in 2017) — can play both inside and outside makes him potentially that much more alluring.
“Sutton’s versatility as a defensive back who can still line up in the slot when called upon provides added value for interested teams, as well,” concludes Spielberger.
That said, Sutton, still just 27 years old, is likely to command considerably more money than he has made in the past two seasons, with one NFL observer projecting a three-year, $30 million deal. That makes his current contract seem like a bargain, though at $5.2 million (cap number) he is Pittsburgh’s seventh-highest paid player this season, as per overthecap.com.
The good news is that the Steelers ought to be in much better shape from a cap perspective come 2023, as $35,214,498 in dead money comes off the books. (More than half of that amount is tied to Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Stephon Tuitt.)
In addition, the Steelers don’t have significant money tied up in the cornerback position going forward. And no potential cuts present significant dead money challenges.
Steelers Cornerbacks Under Contract in 2023
Levi Wallace — who signed a two-year, $8 million deal in March 2022 after getting a “sign” from God — is under contract for one more year, but could be cut with a dead money charge of just $1,482,500, according to overthecap.com.
Ahkello Witherspoon — who has missed most of this season with a hamstring injury — is signed for one more season at $4 million, but he too could be released with a cap charge of only $1,482,500.
Meanwhile, Arthur Maulet is inked through 2023 (and scheduled to earn $1.79 million next year), while James Pierre is set to be a restricted free agent.
Last but not least, midseason trade acquisition William Jackson III is slated to earn $9.25 million in salary next year, but if he fails to make the 53-man roster the Steelers would owe nothing, nor would there be a dead cap charge.
But with no cornerback currently under contract past 2023, it’s a position group that probably should be addressed with a premium draft pick. Yet the Steelers haven’t selected a cornerback in the first round since 2016, with Artie Burns having been described as Pittsburgh’s biggest draft mistake in the past six years. He missed the 2020 season with a torn ACL after signing with Chicago, but returned to play in 11 games (with six starts) for the Bears in 2021.
Burns signed a one-year deal with Seattle in March 2022 and has appeared in three games for the Seahawks thus far this season.