Steelers Connected With ‘Physical’ Defender to Upgrade Secondary

Mike Tomlin

Getty Head coach Mike Tomlin and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been linked to a former second-round pick in NFL free agency.

The Pittsburgh Steelers may lose cornerback Cameron Sutton in NFL free agency. But the Steelers are a perfect fit for another free agent cornerback, according to ESPN’s Matt Bowen.

“How strong the market for Ya-Sin ends up being will play a role in the Steelers’ ability to make a move, but I like the fit — especially if Pittsburgh can’t re-sign Sutton,” Bowen wrote. “Ya-Sin is well-versed in both man and zone schemes and has a physical approach to the game, so he would upgrade the perimeter of the Steelers’ secondary.

“He had seven pass breakups this season and allowed just one touchdown receptions as the nearest defender, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.”

Bowen ranked Ya-Sin at 34th among the top NFL free agents set to be available in March this year. Of Bowen’s Top 50 pending free agents, only Ya-Sin was labeled a best fit for the Steelers.

How Ya-Sin Fits With the Steelers

As Bowen noted, Ya-Sin’s versatility to play in both man and zone coverage would work nicely with what the Steelers like to do on defense.

But the team may also need to replace Cameron Sutton this offseason. Sutton, who Bowen ranked 28th among his Top 50 NFL free agents, was called a best fit for the San Francisco 49ers.

If Sutton departs, the Steelers will have 931 defensive snaps to replace at cornerback. Sutton was on the field for at least 94% of defensive snaps when he played in 2021 and 2022.

Ya-Sin has never played that much in any of his four seasons. But he would still go a long way to helping the Steelers replace Sutton. Ya-Sin lined up for 665 defensive snaps in 11 games during 2022, which was 89% of the team’s snaps on defense when he played.

With the Las Vegas Raiders in 2022, Ya-Sin posted 45 combined tackles with 7 pass defenses. In three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, he recorded 138 combined tackles, including 2 tackles for loss and 20 pass defenses.

He only has 2 interceptions in his career, but Ya-Sin has faired well in non-traditional statistics such as the player grades at Pro Football Focus. PFF ranked Ya-Sin 37th among 72 cornerbacks who played at least half their team’s defensive snaps in 2022.

On the Steelers, only Sutton and James Pierre scored better PFF player grades than Ya-Sin did last season.

If Sutton did depart, the Steelers could sign Ya-Sin and likely start him opposite Levi Wallace at cornerback.

Steelers Prioritizing Sutton in Free Agency?

Bowen calling the 49ers the best fit for Sutton and having the Steelers be the best fit for a different cornerback could be a signal that the 2017 third-round pick’s days in Pittsburgh are finished.

But that’s not necessarily the case according to The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. The Steelers insider argued that cornerback is one of the team’s top needs this offseason, and that Sutton will be one of the top options available at the position in free agency.

Kaboly also wrote that “it seems like Sutton wants to return.”

“I’d pay him $30 million over three years but wouldn’t go much past that,” Kaboly wrote. “You have to tell yourself that if they do let Sutton walk and sign a free agent, what would the money difference be? Not very much.

“At least with Sutton, you have a player who is on the rise, and you know what he has to offer.”

Spotrac projected Sutton’s market value to be $22.9 million on a three-year contract. Even if he signs for closer to $30 million as Kaboly suggested, it might be a bargain.

According to Spotrac, Ya-Sin could be more expensive, as his estimated market value is $43.5 million on a four-year deal.

NFL free agency officially begins on March 15 at 4 pm, but the legal tampering period commences two days prior.

Steelers fans could find out soon after that the team’s offseason plan at cornerback and for the rest of the defense.

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