PITTSBURGH (AP) — Cam Sutton spent four years playing the role of dutiful understudy.
When the Pittsburgh Steelers offered the versatile defensive back a chance to lock down a starting job, he didn't hesitate, even if signing a two-year deal made veteran Steven Nelson expendable if not exactly replaceable.
That's the business.
“I’ve been able to create an opportunity for myself now and ready to roll with it with a full head of steam,” Sutton said on Monday.
The 26-year-old Sutton played well in both the slot and on the outside last season, starting six games and finishing with an interception, a sack and three fumble recoveries. His steady rise from third-round pick in 2017 to consistent contributor on one of the NFL's best defenses led the Steelers to offer him a $9 million contract.
Rather than poke around for a more lucrative deal, Sutton opted to stay put, looking to finish what he started. He stressed he's not “complacent."
“I'm not where I know I can be or want to be,” Sutton said.
Good thing, because the Steelers are counting on him to provide some continuity on a defense that will have a new look in 2021.
Nelson was given permission by the team to seek a trade after Sutton's signing, then basically forced Pittsburgh's hand by tweeting the club was holding him “hostage." The team responded by releasing him immediately. Nickel back Mike Hilton left for AFC North rival Cincinnati, outside linebacker Bud Dupree bailed for Tennessee, and veteran inside linebacker Vince Williams was cut.
Their replacements are in most cases younger and cheaper. Rob Spillane will take over for Williams. Alex Highsmith, a third-round pick last spring, will man the outside linebacker spot opposite T.J. Watt. Justin Layne, a third-round pick in 2019, will get a chance to see more playing time in nickel and dime situations.
Sutton doesn't necessarily believe the new faces mean the NFL's third-ranked defense is destined to take a step back.
“With (Nelson, et al) departing and still embarking on their journey, that’s creating opportunity for guys in our building,” Sutton said.
Sutton points to himself as proof Pittsburgh's blueprint of drafting, developing and keeping their core guys works. He spent his first season in the league gleaning what he could from longtime Steelers cornerback Will Gay.
Gay was a fifth-round pick in 2007 who spent 10 of his 11 seasons with the Steelers, winning one Super Bowl and going to another. He offered Sutton a glimpse at what it takes to stick around.
“Just watching how he moved, how he carried himself in the building and out of the building, that was uplifting to see that on a daily basis,” Sutton said. “I really appreciated that from him, whether he knows or really understands it himself.”
Now it's Sutton's time to step into the spotlight across from Joe Haden. He insists he's ready.
“Pittsburgh has had confidence in me since Day 1,” Sutton said. "(They) gave me every opportunity to step forth and live out my dreams. Just to be able to continue that now, I’m all for it.”
NOTES: The Steelers signed punter Jordan Berry to a one-year deal on Monday. Berry, cut at the end of training camp last season only to be re-signed last October, averaged a career-best 45.8 yards per punt in 2020.
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