PITTSBURGH — At cornerback Cameron Sutton Officially hit as a free agency last week, it opened up a void in the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room.
It began to widen into a gaping hole when Sutton agreed to a three-year, $33 million deal Detroit Lions on the first day of the statutory free agency manipulation period.
Not only would the Steelers be without one of their most cerebral, versatile defensemen, they also left the group without one of their most experienced and consistent voices in an otherwise young positional group.
However, this emptiness did not last long.
Hours after losing Sutton, the Steelers agreed on a replacement of sorts by adding Pro Bowler Patrick Petersen on a two-year contract. With a reputation for being an aggressive, elite corner, Peterson fills a physical void in the lineup, but beyond that, he immediately becomes the veteran voice in the room with almost double the NFL experience of the second-oldest corner. It’s a role Peterson, 32, enjoys.
“I’m the oldest of five, so it’s kind of been in my nature for as long as I can remember,” said Peterson, who has 12 years of NFL experience. Arthur Maulet, 29, is closest to the Steelers at seven. “No one needs to tell me, ‘We think you should help this guy.’ From what I’ve done so far in my career I feel like I have so much to pass on to the next generation why would I hold on I want to keep seeing guys play as long as they want to achieve the goals that they set themselves. So if there’s one nugget or piece of advice I can give them, I’m all for it.”
Once a 20-year-old first-round pick by the Arizona Cardinals In 2011, Peterson grew into an Elder Statesman during a 10-year stint in the locker room, mentoring players including other LSU products Tyrant Mathieu And Byron Murphy Jr.who recently signed with the Vikings to replace his former teammate.
“Pat Pete, he’s been my mentor since my rookie year,” Murphy told reporters from Minnesota after signing. “So this is like my big brother. … That’s my type.
“I would say he said from day one, ‘Are you ready to work?'” Murphy said. “I just said, ‘I’m ready to work.’ … He was there as an older brother, mentor, kind of coaching me through my ways, telling me to get better at it, even taking notes watching him do those things, just to the younger guys pass along.
Though the Steelers signed Peterson to a two-year contract, they could still expand the position in the NFL draft to further solidify the defenseman’s future. If the organization goes down this route, it could target Penn State products Joey Porter Jr. or Georgia’s Kelee Ringo.
Bryant McFadden, Peterson’s cousin and former Steeler cornerback, believes that having Peterson in the fold will be a huge benefit for any young corner the Steelers bring in.
“Where the Steelers are in the draft [No. 17]They can take a corner in the first round,” McFadden said. “…Whatever they do in the draft in terms of the additions they’re going to make in secondary is huge because whoever that young corner is , if it’s Joey Porter Jr. [you tell him]“Man, Joey, follow Pat P. Learn from Pat P. Soak up as much of him as you can. Watch the tape with him, talk to him outside the facility. select his brain … The coaches love this kind of leadership because it makes their work easier.”
McFadden, who hosts a podcast with Peterson, is nearly a decade older than his cousin, and Peterson has had the advantage of observing and following McFadden throughout his career.
When McFadden was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2005 draft, he took his younger cousin to Florida for off-season training sessions with older Steelers.
Peterson was already the guy people were attracted to, McFadden said, but exposure to veterans like Ike Taylor and James Farrior taught him how to be a leader and help the next wave of players when it was his turn .
“He used to listen to our stories,” McFadden said. “He always listened to us when we talked. He was always listening to us talking about other people in other organizations where they weren’t doing things right. And as a little boy he was a very attentive type of professional, he kind of had the blueprint.”
As a player who has played six total seasons and won two Super Bowls with the Steelers, McFadden especially knows the value of having a veteran in the room. Before becoming one of those voices in his second stint with the Steelers, he learned from players like Taylor and Deshea Townsend. Although the Steelers still have some knowledge Levi Wallace and Maulet, Peterson’s 10-year stint in Arizona and his two-year stint in Minnesota — along with the experience of growing up with McFadden — will be of great benefit in replenishing and strengthening the position with younger players.
“Anytime you can add a future Hall of Famer to your team and a guy who’s still playing really good football, take that and run with it,” McFadden said. “Because what he can bring to the space is something most coaches with his experience can’t. Being on fire, knowing what it takes to get into the league as a young pup, dominating and being able to maintain that level of play throughout that career is what matters.
“A lot of organizations, when they get rid of some of the older vets, you have a young man learning from a young man. This is an accident waiting to happen.”