Paul Zeise: Steelers were in need of cornerback help even before Cameron Sutton's suspension

Paul Zeise / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Steelers took a gamble when they signed Cameron Sutton, knowing full well that he could be facing a suspension for an offseason domestic violence incident in Florida.

Now they found out how long they will be without Sutton, as he was suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2024 regular season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Sutton will be eligible for reinstatement on Oct. 29, the day after the Steelers’ Monday night game against the Giants.

I don’t know what is right or wrong when it comes to these kinds of situations. I think if Sutton was still being charged with a felony or pled guilty to one, it would be a much more difficult signing to justify given the nature of the charges. But the fact it was dropped to a misdemeanor and Sutton has a chance to make it all go away by completing a diversion program makes it a little less of a non-negotiable issue for me.

Sutton is being given a second chance by the state, so I am not sure why he isn’t allowed to resume his career, as well. And while there are some who don’t think he is being punished enough, remember he probably cost himself somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 million because of this incident.

So again, I don’t know if it was right or wrong for the Steelers to give Sutton a second chance, and I can probably be persuaded both ways. But the reality is Mike Tomlin felt strong enough about Sutton’s character to give him a shot. And that’s mostly because he drafted Sutton, knows him well and believes that whatever happened in Florida is behind him.

“There are not any conversations that we had recently; it’s the totality of our relationship,” Tomlin said at the time they signed Sutton. “I met this guy in Knoxville, man, six, seven years ago, whatever it was, when he came out of school. He’s a great guy. He loves football.

“It’s probably the totality of our relationship, and I probably represent the sentiment of the organization in saying that it’s less about specific conversations, particularly of late, and it’s about the relationship established over a longer period of time.”

I get it. Tomlin is always a coach who will advocate for his players, and the Steelers have a history of giving second chances. 

That being said, there is a football piece to this for the Steelers: It leaves the Steelers short at cornerback. Sutton was likely going to be the slot corner or maybe even compete for the job as the second corner opposite Joey Porter Jr. The Steelers brought Sutton in because he knows the defense and because he is a veteran who is good in coverage.

Now that Sutton is out of the mix for half the season, there is no question that corner becomes one of the biggest positions of need heading into training camp. The Steelers were already thin at corner even with Sutton, but now they need to figure out how to make a move to get a corner between now and when the season begins.

I know that isn’t easy because corner is a position of need on most teams, but they have managed to pull it off in the past. The most high-profile example is in 2017 when Joe Haden was cut by the Browns in late August and the Steelers signed him to a three-year deal.

That is obviously an extreme and there isn’t likely to be an All-Pro cornerback available in late August, but there could be good players who become available either via trade or after getting cut.

As it stands right now, the Steelers have Porter and maybe Donte Jackson as their starters followed by a long list of players who are either unproven, still trying to prove themselves or are likely just depth players.

The Steelers could also add a free agent like Patrick Peterson, who played for them last season and was released. Peterson is old by cornerback standards, but he is a former All-Pro and proved last season he can still play at a reasonably competent level. 

Beyond Porter and Jackson are Josiah Scott, Grayland Arnold and Beanie Bishop along with Anthony Averett, Darius Rush and Cory Trice Jr. That group has some athleticism and talent, but all have a lot of work to do in order to prove they can handle the second corner or even slot corner spot. Jackson came from the Panthers via trade and has had mixed results, which makes his ability to man the second spot very much in question. 

The Steelers knew what they could be getting into when they signed Sutton, and now that the suspension has been handed down, they should know they now need to go get another cornerback to compete for a starting job. They have enough depth players at that position. They need more legitimate starters, and that’s especially true with Sutton out for eight games.

Paul Zeise: [email protected] or @paulzeise on X