The Cleveland Browns made arguably the biggest move of the offseason in acquiring former New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham, Jr., for which they surrendered first- and third-round draft picks and a starting safety, former 2017 first-round draft pick Jabrill Peppers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have spent the past two and a half years making the biggest moves they have ever made in free agency to address the cornerback position. In August of 2017, they signed Joe Haden to a three-year, $27 million contract. In March of 2019, they signed Steven Nelson to a three-year, $25.5 million contract.
And both of them can’t wait until they get a shot at covering Beckham.
During his introductory press conference last month, soon after the Beckham trade happened, Nelson was asked about the prospect of covering the All-Pro twice a year after signing into the AFC North. He said, “I welcome the challenge—twice a year. All year”.
Haden, who once covered Beckham while he was playing with the Browns, told TMZ that he similarly was excited about the opportunity to face one of the start receivers in the NFL “I can’t wait, man”, he said. “You’ve got to go against the best to be the best”.
Artie Burns once had this attitude about covering receivers, including Antonio Brown in practice, but he’s currently scrambling in search of his confidence. The last cornerback who brought that swagger to the position and was able to actually back it up was Ike Taylor, who has been retired for several years.
This should be the best pair of starting cornerbacks the Steelers have had since perhaps Taylor and Keenan Lewis in 2012. Haden and Nelson are certainly being compensated well enough, though their salaries still fall well short of anything at the top of the market.
The front office understands that it has not had success drafting at the position for the most part for a period of some years. It was also palpably obvious that it is a current area of need, so when they found that they had some cap space to work with, they did the smart thing and used it in free agency to address their biggest scouting and development weakness.
This offseason, the Steelers brought in Teryl Austin as a senior defensive assistant to help work with the defensive backs alongside Tom Bradley, who replaced the resigning Carnell Lake as the team’s defensive backs coach in 2018.
In addition to Nelson and Haden, the starting lineup should include Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds at safety, with Mike Hilton projected to retain his spot in the slot. It’s unclear what their current plans are to address the dimebacker role.