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: Sold
Reasoning: In a move that most probably would have found surprising two weeks ago, the Steelers announced earlier this week that they have released starting cornerback Steven Nelson, whom they signed as a prized free agent in 2019.
After two years of quality play at the right cornerback position for the Steelers, playing a pivotal role in marking a stark transition in the level of performance out of the secondary as a whole, Steven Nelson will no longer be a part of it going forward.
Most of the way through a three-year, $25.5 million contract that he signed in March of 2019, he is now a street free agent after the Steelers released him, thereby saving more than $8 million prior to roster displacement with the removal of his scheduled 2021 base salary.
The cap savings appears to have been the primary, possibly only, motivating factor in the movie, which is unfortunate, especially when considering that the salary cap wasn’t supposed to be anything like this, but rather about $25 million higher, if not for the devastating ripple effects of the pandemic.
After his first season in 2019, many hailed Nelson as one of the best free agent signings in Steelers history, going the entire season without allowing a touchdown. While he had a more up-and-down season in 2020, he still offered above-the-line play for one of the better secondaries in the NFL.
Coupled with the loss of Mike Hilton, Pittsburgh has now parted ways with two of its three starting cornerbacks of the past two years. Cameron Sutton should move into the starting lineup, replacing Nelson in the base defense, though he will likely shift into the slot in sub-packages unless they can acquire another slot defender.
The Steelers attempted to trade Nelson, but evidently found no takers, which is unfortunate, since, to state the obvious, it means that they are not getting any compensation for his loss beyond the salary cap savings. The team is certainly made worse for this move, indisputably, and many rightfully continue to question it.