Joe Haden will be starting opposite a different right cornerback this season. After forming a formidable pair with Steven Nelson in 2019 and 2020, Nelson was released this offseason in an effort for the Steelers to get under the cap. The move surprised many, including Haden, who talked about it on Tuesday in a Zoom call with reporters.
“I was a little surprised, but you know, it’s the business thing,” Haden said. “I think it had a lot to do just cap numbers,. Me and him both are older players, and then both having one year left on our deals and salary cap being what it was, I just think it was a business decision.”
Both Nelson and the Steelers’ front office have cited Nelson’s cap hit as the reason why he was cut. But the Steelers had other ways to create the same $7.5 million freed up by letting him go. A voidable year extension from Joe Haden, who probably wouldn’t have had any issue doing one if it meant keeping Nelson, coupled with not signing players like OT Joe Haeg and Chris Wormley could’ve gotten the team to the same place financially but kept their starting cornerback.
According to reports at the time, the Steelers’ decision came down to cutting Nelson or Haden. They deemed Haden to be the better and more valuable player so Nelson got the pink slip. A harsh reality of the NFL. Haden knows it, released by the Browns before coming to Pittsburgh.
“It sucks. Steve is a baller. I can’t wait for him to land on his feet. I’ve been trying to keep in contact with him. I know he has options with teams. That’s just the very, very tough part of business. It’s a numbers thing.”
Cam Sutton is expected to assume RCB duties in the Steelers’ base defense. What happens in sub-package, nickel and dime, is to be determined. James Pierre or Justin Layne could move into that right corner spot with Sutton kicking to the slot or Sutton could stay on the outside with someone like Arthur Maulet playing inside. All those things will be based on the play of the young and new faces this summer.