There are a lot of reasons for the Detroit Lions' 6-2 start. One of them, albeit an under the radar one, has been the arrival of Cameron Sutton, a veteran cornerback who has made a big impact on his new team after spending his first six NFL seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sutton, 28, signed a three-year, $33 million contract with the Lions this past offseason. Simply put, Sutton has been worth every penny. Just ask Lions pass-rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who said Sutton's presence has helped Detroit compile the NFC's second-best record.
"Cam's been unbelievable, man," Hutchinson said during a one-on-one interview with CBS Sports. "He's such a steady force in our locker room and on our team. He's kind of an old soul. I feel like guys just naturally look to him because everyone loves that old soul vibe. It's very calming.
"That's kind of how I describe Cam. Calm, but man, he's intense come game time. And I love having him in my corner, as my corner, come game time. It's great."
Sutton and safety Tracy Walker II are the "old heads" in the Lions' starting secondary. Safety Kerby Joseph and cornerback Jerry Jacobs are in their second and third seasons, respectively, while nickelback Brian Branch is in the middle of his rookie campaign. So far, the unit has allowed just two opposing teams to throw for over 300 yards. It has held teams to under 200 yards and has played an integral role in the Lions' defense ranking second in the NFL in third-down efficiency.
The impact Sutton is making in Detroit is similar to the one he made in Pittsburgh. The Steelers defense was 16th in the NFL in passing yards allowed prior to 2017, Sutton's rookie season. During his first five seasons with the Steelers, Pittsburgh's pass defense ranked fifth, 10th, third, third and ninth, respectively. The additions of Sutton, Joe Haden (also in 2017) and Minkah Fitzpatrick (2019) were the main reasons for the unit's success against the pass during that stretch.
Sutton was part of arguably the final excellent draft class under longtime Steelers GM Kevin Colbert. Also drafted by the Steelers that April were T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Joshua Dobbs, who just led the Vikings to a victory .
While Smith-Schuster, Conner and Dobbs left Pittsburgh in recent years, the Steelers valued Sutton enough to sign him to a two-year extension ahead of the 2021 season. Sutton's versatility and peerless football intellect were among the reasons why the Steelers wanted to keep him in Pittsburgh.
Sutton, though, chose to sign elsewhere after he was given the chance to test the open market this past offseason. Omar Khan, who succeeded Colbert as Pittsburgh's GM last offseason, acknowledged during training camp that the Steelers wanted to re-sign Sutton.
"He got a great opportunity to go to Detroit. He was very happy with that contract," Khan said. "We obviously had discussions. We talked about bringing him back, and it just didn't work out, and that's free agency."
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The Steelers responded by signing eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson, who has filled Sutton's role in the secondary. Pittsburgh is currently 5-3, while the Lions lead the NFC North entering Sunday's game against the Chargers.
In Detroit, Sutton is hoping to accomplish something he never did in Pittsburgh: win a playoff game. If he does, it would be the Lions' first since 1991 and only the second since Detroit won the 1957 NFL title.
While winning a playoff game would be reason enough for a parade, Hutchison doesn't want his team to shortchange themselves and what it can accomplish during the season's second half.
"I feel like we're a team that having not won a playoff game since the '90s, fans would love to see us in the playoffs and win one game," Hutchinson said. "But when you look at our team and what kind of guys that we have, you're like, 'This could be our shot.' I think a lot of guys understand that. I feel like those long playoff runs and potential Super Bowl appearances, those come few and far between. If the opportunity is there, we're going to jump on it."
Along with preparing for Sunday's game, Hutchinson has partnered up with USAA ahead of Veterans Day. He recently met up with US Air Force veteran Patrick Fitzhugh to learn more about why it's so important to go above and beyond this Veterans Day.
"Just encouraging Americans to go beyond thanks," Hutchinson said, "in order to honor veterans, really, just by having deeper conversations."