The Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest financial move from outside of the organization this offseason was to bring in former Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson, agreeing to a three-year, $26.5 million contract with the fifth-year player during the three-day ‘legal tampering’ window prior to the official start of free agency.
The fact that the Steelers reached an agreement with a player within that window, something that they had never done previously with an outside free agent, shows not only the urgency with which they sought him, or a player like him, but also the financial cost, as the big-ticket items tend to go earliest.
The front office was after a defensive back who could take the ball away, and Nelson was the player in their price range who showed that capability in 2018, intercepting four passes. The Steelers, in full disclosure, have not had a single player intercept for or more passes in a season since 2010 when Troy Polamalu caught seven passes and was named Defensive Player of the Year.
The fifth-year cornerback has been gradually on the ascent over the course of the team’s six training camp practices today, finding more ways to get around the ball particularly over the course of the last couple coming out of the break.
Not just getting around the ball, but collecting it. He had a dropped interception earlier in camp, but had started to get them and keep them now. Tomlin was asked about the importance of that after today’s practice. “It’s gonna be an asset to us”, he said. “We expect it to continue”.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) August 1, 2019
“I just like his overall general approach to the work. He’s a consistently ‘up’ performer”, he went on. “He’s a detail guy, you see why he’s opportunistic. We look forward to him being opportunistic for us”.
As you’ll likely recall, especially if you’re a regular follower, the Steeler as a defense recorded just eight interceptions last season, which is fewer than half as many balls their offense threw to opponents (remember, Joshua Dobbs also threw a pick).
But their meager turnover numbers were not for a lack of opportunity. They had more interception opportunities that they failed to secure than any other team in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. To that end, the Steelers have made extra work on hands for the defensive backs a mandatory part of training camp, according to Terrell Edmunds.
Nelson, who figures to start at right outside cornerback, needs to be a part of the solution to taking the ball away. Even with the improvements made elsewhere in the defense, this doesn’t figure to be a unit that will hold up simply through attrition.
They need to make some splash plays. The way the game is now, it’s almost impossible to win defensively purely through attrition. The championship teams find ways to get the ball back in their offense’s hands. Which is why that has been a bigger point of emphasis this offseason than it ever has before.