NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund is not a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ decision to let cornerback Cameron Sutton walk and replace him with cornerback Patrick Peterson. Frelund said on Free Agent Frenzy on NFL Network today that Pittsburgh signing Peterson was a head-scratcher.
“I’m a little confused with what we’re going to see from Patrick Peterson. This one’s about fit. Yes, he had his best statistical season last year since 2018, but you have to look what happened, 2.4 yards per separation using single-high coverage, but that’s an interesting number because I think a lot of his numbers and statistics and production came when they were playing zone, so how much zone are (the Steelers) really gonna play?” Frelund said via NFL.com. “So that fit is a little confusing for me, and they still don’t have a true number one corner to go with those great pass rushers.”
Meanwhile, Frelund named Sutton to the Lions as one of the best moves of the offseason.
“Cam Sutton to the Lions is an epic one, as well,” Frelund said.
She said that the percentage of man coverage played defensively is similar between Detroit and Pittsburgh, making Sutton an easy player to project. “You can kind of forecast how he can be a great ball-hawk and this guy who kind of shuts people down right away,” Frelund said.
It’s true that Peterson is moving from a zone-heavy scheme to a team that likes to play man coverage. But the Steelers still have zone principles, and it isn’t as if Peterson is completely helpless in man coverage. For the money Sutton got and the money Peterson got, bringing in Peterson to be a leader and hope he can come close to his 2022 level of production is worth the risk for a year.
Sutton is younger and had a fantastic 2022, but if the Steelers had brought him back, they still wouldn’t have the true No. 1 corner that Frelund correctly says they lack. Sutton is a great cornerback, but the position would’ve been a need with him — and still is without him.
Sutton was a great leader and communicator, as Cameron Heyward said on his podcast earlier today. But adding a veteran and multiple-time All-Pro pick who can come in and take a rookie cornerback under his wing is worth the money, regardless of the on-field impact. Frelund’s job isn’t to measure the intangibles a player might bring in the locker room and off the field, so I have no real problem with her analysis. But make no mistake, the signing of Peterson is worth it for reasons that extend beyond what’s he going to do on the field.
As for Sutton, the three-year, $33-million contract he got is right around what I think most thought he would get on the open market. If his production is similar to what it was in 2022, it will be a great deal for the Lions. Losing him is certainly a blow for the Steelers, and for a Lions team with a clear need of secondary help, identifying and quickly bringing in Sutton was a good move.
But replacing him with Peterson isn’t catastrophic for the Steelers. The team is more than likely going to spend one of its first three draft picks in the upcoming NFL Draft on a cornerback. Having Peterson to mentor that player is a win for Pittsburgh.