Steelers $14 Million Defender Believed to Have ‘Signed With Wrong Team’

Getty Images Patrick Peterson defends Diontae Johnson.

The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t a team known for being overly active in free agency. But with a new general manager in charge, things went a little differently in 2023. There were no splashy signings, only smart additions to bolster the roster.

Among them was veteran All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson, circa the Minnesota Vikings, initially a fifth-overall selection by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2011 NFL draft. The Steelers had lost Cam Sutton, an integral part of their secondary for six seasons, and signed Peterson in the early hours of the legal tampering period.

He’d spent two seasons in Minnesota before opting to test free agency waters. Word on the street was the system of former Steelers senior defensive assistant and new Vikings defensive coordinator, Brian Flores, wouldn’t be a good fit for Peterson. Flores primarily runs a man-heavy coverage scheme, a departure from the zone coverage that outgoing defensive coordinator Ed Donatell employed.

Per the 33rd Team, the Vikings only ran man defenses at the 25th-highest rate (or 61%) in the league. Peterson excelled in Donatell’s system and his numbers reflected that: Five interceptions, 15 total passes defended, a career-high 66 tackles and an 82.5 PFF coverage grade. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate under 60% and a collective passer rating of 79.6.

Despite the defensive switch, Minnesota expressed interest in re-signing the veteran — largely because, at 32, Peterson was coming off the second-best season of his career. It’s been said that Flores likely believed he could still thrive in man, a scheme that requires burst from the defender to stay in lock-step with his receiver.

Scheme fit is why Bleacher Report’s Alex Ballentine believes Peterson signed with the wrong team. “As his age-33 season approaches, there’s a real possibility that Peterson’s play is set to fall off a cliff if the Steelers continue to heavily rely on man coverage in their second season under coordinator Teryl Austin,” Ballentine wrote.

“Even if Peterson couldn’t arrange a new contract with Minnesota, it would have been wise to find a scheme that would accommodate him better.”

The Steelers relied primarily on zone defense (where Peterson had great success) for seven seasons under Keith Butler. Their use of man coverage increased under new coordinator Teryl Austin, who was promoted from senior defensive assistant in 2022. The change-up worked in Pittsburgh’s favor, as the unit returned to dominance, tying the San Francisco 49ers in interceptions (20). It finished in the top 10 despite relying on different personnel.

Even still, the Steelers ran zone 52% of the time, compared to 38% man (via the 33rd Team). It’ll be interesting to see how that affects Peterson’s production in 2022.

Will Peterson regret having left Minnesota for Pittsburgh? Something tells me he’ll be just fine.

Patrick Peterson Is Confident in Role With Steelers

There is no telling athletes that they can’t do something, and Patrick Peterson is no different.

“My durability has always been there,” Peterson said on the March 13 episode of the Adam Schefter Podcast. “I know I can play two strong more seasons, and after that, it’ll kind of be up in the air.”

Given the timing of the signing and his natural position, it was thought that Cam Sutton was swapped for Peterson. But it’s entirely possible that he could line up alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick and be used more in the safety role vacated by Terrell Edmunds.

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