The Steelers cut cornerback Steven Nelson to clear cap space this offseason, but here’s why both sides should make amends.
It’s clear that Steven Nelson was not happy at all with the way things ended in Pittsburgh. After being told that he would have to fight for a starting gig in 2021, the Steelers eventually cut Nelson to clear additional cap space. If you put yourself in Nelson’s shoes, it’s not hard to figure out why he was so upset with the organization.
The NFL is obviously a business, and the Steelers made a business move that they thought was correct. However, in just a few months, Nelson went from being a starting cornerback on the Pittsburgh Steelers to a player who remains in the free-agent market. Instead of doing him the courtesy of being cut early in the offseason process so that he would have a chance to sign a rich deal with a new team, Nelson was cut after more than 30 free-agent cornerbacks had already signed with new organizations, according to Spotrac.com.
Clearly, there is some bad blood here. However, it would be wise for both sides to bury the hatchet and start fresh. This won’t be easy, and the possibility of a return is totally in the hands of Steven Nelson. Still, the Steelers would be very wise to try to make this work.
Though Nelson didn’t have the greatest season in 2020, he had an incredible year with the team in 2019 – allowing 0 touchdowns thrown in his direction and surrendering just a 65.8 passer rating, according to Pro Football Reference. While we don’t know if this is something Nelson will be able to repeat again in the future, he is very likely the best option at cornerback for the Steelers in free agency.
Why a Steven Nelson reunion with the Steelers makes sense
As you know, we are very late in the offseason process. The 2021 NFL Draft is now in the distance and teams have already completed their rookie minicamps. Pittsburgh has already started their OTAs and will have their mandatory minicamp soon. Suitors for Nelson are running very low, and many teams already have their training camp rosters set.
Obviously, Nelson already knows Pittsburgh’s system very well as he has been the starting right cornerback for the Steelers in each of the past two seasons. Because of his familiarity with the team and a severe lack of depth at the cornerback position in Pittsburgh, there’s a chance the team can pick up right where they left off.
The Steelers are apparently high on Cameron Sutton, and for good reason. Sutton graded out as Pittsburgh’s best cornerbacks in each of the past two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. As a result, the team may prefer to use him as a full-time outside cornerback over Nelson at this point. But that doesn’t mean that Nelson still couldn’t have a big role.
Though he may be sidelined during base formations, today’s NFL teams run a vast majority of nickel and dime packages. During this time, the team could have Nelson slide back in as the right cornerback and move Hilton to the slot. Of course, if Nelson is willing to compete, he could earn his old starting gig again. The cost to acquire him should be low at this point. The veteran cornerback could sign a one-year prove-it deal before trying to cash in again during the 2022 free agency period.
I know that there is clearly some resentment on the part of Steven Nelson after the way things ended in Pittsburgh, and the team didn’t give him a fair shot to test the free-agent market after releasing him so late. However, perhaps the Steelers could make it up to him by offering him his old job back in 2021.