Which Steelers CBs should be retained heading into 2021?

The conversation surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 cornerback situation may need some altering on who to keep and release.

Queue the off-season, meaning the most crucial time of the year. From contracts to draft picks, NFL front offices all attempt to accomplish these things for the team’s benefit, as fans we hope. On very few occasions, much like the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020, organizations have to make a collective decision in possibly turning over someone who has been the face of the franchise.

In a very brief, single-tweet style conclusion, these situations are more intricate than stated. For instance, will the Steelers attempt to almost “force” Ben Roethlisberger’s hand in retiring or leave the decision to an individual that has contributed significantly for nearly the past two decades? Also, in the wake of this, how does the current OC change affect his choice in doing so or not?

Question after question, it almost seems endless, especially considering the cap problem Pittsburgh has heading into the 2021-22 season. To further our debates, a lively one that has been relevant on the defense is how they should address their secondary & it’s free agents. But have we been suggesting the correct ones?

Should the Steelers keep CB Cam Sutton or Mike Hilton?

The backend of the Steelers cornerback room, Cam Sutton & Mike Hilton, are now both unrestricted free agents. Each also set to enter in the prime of their NFL careers.

Fresh off his rookie deal, the ever-so proving Sutton has continuously shown that whenever a spot needs to be filled, he is ready and able. A versatile skillset that translates into the ability to cover inside & out, he started a career-high six games in 2020, allowing a 79.8 QB rating when targeted on 56 targets. Giving up just a single touchdown on the year, Sutton reeled in an interception of his own & deflected eight passes.

For Hilton, he fits the “Swiss Army” knife description better than any other player on this roster. After a third-consecutive one year deal with the Steelers, he has the choice to stay amongst a talented defensive roster or venture out to a possible third new team. Beating all of these odds in terms of size at the position & being an undrafted player, Hilton has earned every penny he has received in his career.

Achieving this feat once again in 2020, Hilton also added a career-high three interceptions, giving up a career-low number yards per completion (9.2), yards per target (6.0), touchdowns (1), & QB rating (60.2) in coverage. These numbers not only triumphs Sutton in every category but also outranks CBs Joe Haden & Steven Nelson.

Or should they keep both?

And that’s the twist of it all. In 2021, the Steelers will allocate the third most money in the NFL to its cornerbacks, and rank fourth in its average cap dollars to the position & second to its 2021 adjusted cap percentage.

Primarily for the reason that each Haden & Nelson will rank top five in base salary next season on Pittsburgh’s roster as a whole. After an exciting 2019 performance that seemed like a revival for a veteran of this league & new light for one of the latest members on the team, could it have been an anomaly?

Struggling to find much consistency in 2020, they both allowed five or more touchdowns to opposing teams. In comparison, no other pair of cornerbacks in the AFC North that each started at least ten games did this.

If we played the opposite roles here, a post 6/1 release would add $23 million to the cap if Haden & Nelson were released, with a combined $9 million in dead cap over the next two years. Again this is all surface-level thinking, as stated towards the beginning.

The release of both would not only leave a vacancy at CB2 but add a significant depth issue at cornerback for the Steelers. So what if Pittsburgh were to release just one & perhaps draft another CB? History hasn’t boded well in this process, but with S Minkah Fitzpatrick & OLB TJ Watt in line for monster deals, cuts will soon have to happen everywhere where we least expect it.