I didn’t imagine having to write a post about reasons why the Pittsburgh Steelers probably won’t use the Transition Tag on cornerback Cameron Sutton before the start of the 2023 league year in March, but thanks to tweets like the one you see below, I guess I have to do so to ensure everyone has the facts. So, here we go with it.
First, the annual NFL tag period opened on Tuesday and until 6 p.m. 4 p.m., New York time on March 7, clubs can now designate franchise or transfer players. The tag amounts for both types of tags are below for you to see.
So, what is a transition code?
The transition code, which is based on the NFL’s salary cap numbers for the upcoming season, is a one-year tender offer for the average of the top 10 salaries at each position — as opposed to the top five for the franchise tag. The transfer code guarantees the original club the right of first refusal to match any offer the player may receive from another club when the free agency signing period begins. Should a team not match an offer form from another team signed by a transfer-tagged player, that team will not be awarded any compensation for losing said player.
Here’s something else to keep in mind when it comes to tagged players. When a player is tagged by a team, said team must be able to accommodate the full tag amount within the salary cap as of the first day of the new league year in March. As for Sutton, a transfer tag amount for him would be $15.791 million, and thus the Steelers would have to accept the full amount of the cap at the start of the new league year.
I currently have the Steelers projected March 15 cap number as $524,852 over, and that projected amount includes Sutton’s dead money from his recently voided contract, in addition to the NFL’s annual workout bonus placeholder fee of $849,600. Clearly, the Steelers must be under grab by March 15th, so moves will come in the next three weeks to make sure that happens.
Could the Steelers make enough cuts or perform enough restructuring to allow them to accommodate a $15.791 million transfer tag amount for Sutton? They certainly could. That said, would they want to accommodate such a large cost while waiting to see if Sutton receives offer sheets from other teams that might be interested in him? Probably not. There is a piece of the cap to sit on.
Now let’s say that Sutton doesn’t receive an offer sheet that he wants to sign and he ends up signing the Steelers trade code by the deadline, which I believe is sometime in July? Well, the Steelers could obviously re-sign him at any time after they tagged him and before he signed an offer sheet. A new agreement will obviously result in a lower assessment fee for 2023.
Above, placing a $15.791 million transfer tag on Sutton tells the player and his representation that he is worth at least that per year to the team. In short, and if Sutton’s representation does its job right, any new deal negotiations would start at an average of $15.791 million per year. Remember, Sutton could just decide to sign the free agency and play under it for the 2023 season and then see if he could possibly test unrestricted free agency in 2024. That’s nearly $16 million he’d make for just one season, and thus his side a ton. of bargaining power when he is the transition mark.
Ok, how about the matched quote sheet part? Well, once again, Sutton doesn’t have to sign any offer sheets he doesn’t like, and remember, he’s going to make $15.791 million in 2023 from the Steelers if he declines all offer sheets. However, should Sutton find an offer sheet he deems worthy of signing, it could have terms or be structured in a way that the Steelers won’t match it. Keep in mind that a non-matching offer means the player leaves without compensation to the former team, and it also includes compensatory draft pick value.
Do you see all the issues here regarding Sutton and him receiving the transfer tag from the Steelers? There should be enough issues listed that make it seem almost guaranteed that the Steelers won’t tag him. Incidentally, since 2016 there have been only three players issued transfer tags by teams; Olivier Vernon (2016), Kyle Fuller (2018) and Kenyan Drake (2020). I think you can understand why based on everything I’ve written so far.
So, what’s the best case scenario when it comes to Sutton in the coming weeks? Well, getting him signed to a new deal before the start of the new league year in mid-March. By the time the annual scouting combine is over, the Steelers and Sutton’s front office should have a pretty good idea of what the cornerback’s market value is. From there, the two sides will have less than two weeks to get a new deal done so Sutton doesn’t test unrestricted free agency. Personally, I think that’s what happens in the end.