2021 Offseason Questions: How Does Impending Nelson Departure Shift Draft Need At CB?

The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.

After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.

The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?

These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.

Question: Assuming Steven Nelson really is moved, how does this affect the Steelers’ view of the cornerback position as a draft priority?

While nothing has ever been made official—though Steven Nelson on social media has obviously strongly indicated it—the Steelers are expected to trade or release the veteran cornerback, really any day now. It was reported that the team gave Nelson permission to seek a trade.

The speculation is that it’s a move being made in order to save salary cap space, which will provide the team with about $7.5 million in cap relief once complete. But that also leaves the Steelers pretty thin at cornerback coupled with the loss of Mike Hilton.

If the season were to start today, Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton would be your starters in a 3-4 defense. Either Justin Layne or James Pierre would have to come in on the outside for their sub-package defenses, with Sutton moving into the slot.

It’s obvious that the Steelers need more depth at cornerback now, projected to lose two of their three starters from last season, and without a lot of experienced depth behind them in the first place. But how does this affect their draft strategy?

Layne himself was a third-round pick in 2019, so it’s not so long ago that they invested a reasonably high pick in the position. Sutton was also a third-round pick in 2017. Senquez Golson was a second-round pick in 2015, so lately, they have been using a day-two pick here every other year. perhaps, then, they’re due. But they just have so many other needs.

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