Now that the 2021 offseason has begun, following yet another year of disappointment, a fourth consecutive season with no postseason victories, it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we are seeing over the course of the offseason as it plays out. We will also be reviewing players based on their previous season and their prospects for the future.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the season as we move forward.
Player: CB Steven Nelson
Stock Value: Even
Reasoning: After coming in strong in 2019 with a season in which he didn’t allow a single touchdown, Steven Nelson’s performance more or less plateaued in 2020—which is not a bad thing.
The Steelers made three major outside additions to their secondary between August of 2017 and September of 2019, from the time of signing Joe Haden in free agency to their trade acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick, with Steven Nelson’s signing falling in between.
The latter was signed as an unrestricted free agent in 2019, taking over a starting cornerback spot opposite Haden that had been a need for a number of years. He came in right away and played at a high level. Though he only intercepted one pass, he did not allow a touchdown as the primary coverage defender all season.
That’s an incredibly hard feat to duplicate, and he didn’t come close to that this past season, but you can’t expect a starting cornerback to allow zero touchdowns. It’s going to happen at some point, in some contexts. Teams do score touchdowns, and most of them through the air.
Though he did allow some touchdowns, he also got his hands on more passes, with two interceptions and nine passes defensed. This is partly attributable to a higher number of targets in the passing game than he saw in 2019, but generally, he held his own.
Nelson is now entering the final year of the original three-year, $25.5 million contract that he signed in free agency, which was the largest the team had ever given out to an outside unrestricted free agent at the time (Haden was a street free agent, but his deal was slightly larger at $27 million).
While some have posited the possibility of his being a salary cap casualty, it is equally if not more likely that they will actually offer him a contract extension at some point this offseason in an effort to both lower his cap hit and keep him around. If there’s one thing we know about the Steelers, it’s that they have a really hard time drafting cornerbacks, so you don’t want to lose the ones you have, especially one that only just turned 28 in January.