NFL free agency: Steelers sign Peterson, Sutton heads to Lions
The Pittsburgh Steelers, a team not typically known in the past for making big waves during the NFL free agency period, entered the first day of this season’s flurry of player movement with Omar Khan at the reins. While the madness ensued, creating plenty of discussion across social media platforms, Pittsburgh had one cornerback depart and a well-known name at the same position enter.
Cameron Sutton was picked up by the Detroit Lions on a reported three-year, $33 million dollar deal. The $22 million guarantee could have been matched by the Steelers, but with the franchise continuing to retool areas on their roster, it’s likely they’re also keeping a close eye on their two early 2023 NFL Draft positions while juggling their free agents in-house for the best deals possible.
Detroit had the NFL’s worst (combined) defense in 2022. Their defensive backfield was a liability they strongly needed to repair. The Lions ranked 30th in passing yards allowed per game (245.8) last season and allowed 7.5 yards per pass play (ranked 31st). Amani Oruwariye, Will Harris, and Mike Hughes are all free agents; they’re three of the team’s top five corners. Jeff Okudah, the Lions’ No. 3 pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, lost his starting spot in the final stretch of the 2022 season. As a team, Detroit produced just three interceptions among all cornerbacks on their roster.
Sutton, a third-round selection (University of Tennessee), spent a majority of his first three seasons in Pittsburgh as a part-time player until being bumped into a starting roll in 2021 and 2022. The 28 year-old was given a 65.3 passer rating last season per Pro Football Reference.
There were mixed emotions among Steelers fans who’d hoped the team would find a way to court and keep Sutton, the team’s third-best defensive back in interceptions (3) behind fellow corner Levi Wallace (4) and safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (6).
Instead, Pittsburgh may have tipped its hand a bit in regard to the draft by allowing Sutton to seek a payday and opting, instead, to bring in veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson who spent the past two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. Peterson entered the league and played with the Arizona Cardinals from 2011-20.
Peterson reportedly expressed interest in playing for two more seasons as a veteran, and the Steelers offered him a two-year deal worth $14 million ($5.85 million guaranteed).
Having an eight-time Pro Bowl corner on the roster is a plus for any NFL team, but for Pittsburgh – who is rumored to have strong interest in taking a cornerback high in the 2023 NFL Draft – they just gained a player who has seen nearly everything an NFL offense can put on the field as a mentor while he bolsters their takeaway ability.
Jason Shelter of Burgh Sports United wrote:
“Although Peterson will be 33 entering the 2023 season, I actually feel he’s an upgrade over Cam Sutton. Peterson has the ability to cover receivers well, and can still be a ball hawking CB, which will fit nicely, with the likes of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace. Obviously, Peterson is with the Steelers in the short-term, but should the team decide to draft a CB high, it would allow someone like Peterson to become a good mentor, if nothing else. Overall, I think it’s a terrific signing all-around.”
Should Steelers fans fear the age, Peterson had the second-most interceptions of his career (5) in 2022. An interception of Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen sealed an overtime win for the Vikings. Peterson still has plenty of gas in the tank to give Pittsburgh a boost in the backfield.
"I'm going to take my talents to the Steel Curtain."
— All Things Covered (@ATCoveredPod) March 13, 2023
Peterson wasted little time after his deal was announced in changing his Twitter profile to show his commitment to the Steelers and Pittsburgh fans. And, although he hinted that his No. 7 jersey was something he’d like to keep – much to the harsh criticism of some Steelers Nation members who want that jersey retired with Ben Roethlisberger – Peterson was quick to quell that debate as well.
Peterson is the first “signing” for the Steelers during this free agency period, but he may not be the last. NFL free agents cannot officially sign with other teams until the 2023 league year opens at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
Steel City Underground will update free agent news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers throughout the week, here on the site and on its social media platforms.