During the initial free agency period, Steven Nelson remains the biggest signing in Pittsburgh Steelers history. The former Kanas City Chiefs cornerback came to the team last offseason via a three-year, $25.5 million deal. Both in total money and in average annual salary, it’s the most money the team has ever given to a free agent during the compensatory season. Joe Haden is the only player they gave more to, in August of 2017, after he was released by the Cleveland Browns.
Though he didn’t put up gawdy numbers, especially in the turnover department, Nelson proved to be a reliable starter on the right side of the Steelers defense, pairing up with Haden to form one of the more formidable duos at the cornerback position and helping to vault Pittsburgh’s pass defense to near the top of the league.
Speaking with Missi Matthews over Skype recently for the team’s website, Nelson reflected on signing with the team last year and how much has changed since then, now comfortable in his position and watching the Steelers bring in new faces to join the mix.
“It’s an awesome feeling. I feel like I’ve been in Pittsburgh for so many years, but it’s only been a year”, he said. “It’s just home. Just seeing these guys come in, it gets me excited and takes me back to when I first signed with the Steelers. It’s a great feeling to get some new faces and just welcome those guys in the way everybody welcomed me in”.
Nelson is under contract for two more seasons, at the end of which he will be 29 years old. Assuming that he puts together another season similar to 2019, however, it’s likely that the team will want to work out a contract extension for him next offseason, the way they did with Haden as he entered the final year of his three-year deal.
The urgency to do so is made all the more potent by the simple reality that the Steelers have plainly not been able to draft and develop talent at the cornerback position, at least not since Keenan Kewis in 2009, and he proved to be a late bloomer before leaving in free agency for the New Orleans Saints.
Their most recent high draft pick at the position was Artie Burns, taken in the first round in 2016. While he started for about a season and a half, he lost his job and now left in free agency. Cameron Sutton, a third-round pick in 2017, has shown growth, but has been unable to find a role. The most recent pick is Justin Layne, another third-round selection last year, who did not play defensively in 2019.