Roster turnover is an inevitability in this league, but the Pittsburgh Steelers’ roster has changed considerably since the end of last season, with many players who have been important to this franchise now gone, either retired, in limbo, or in another uniform. As we wind down the time until training camp opens, it feels appropriate to acknowledge the old faces that we’ll no longer be seeing on the sidelines this year.
That includes Pro Bowlers and former high draft picks, as well as undrafted free agents of varying accomplishment. Four losses along the offensive line, multiple departures at linebacker and in the secondary, and other changes mixed in, will make for a rather different roster.
All the same, there are the steady presences that remain: the Ben Roethlisbergers, the T.J. Watts, the Cameron Heywards. Who will be the next long-term faces? Minkah Fitzpatrick will certainly be one. What about Cameron Sutton? Zach Banner? Kevin Dotson? Devin Bush? When will their names appear in this retrospective?
CB Steven Nelson
6 seasons (2 with Steelers)
You’re left with few options when the salary cap plunges roughly $25 million below where you expected it to be. Inevitably, there’s going to be some collateral damage, and most teams experienced this to some degree or another.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the most controversial casualty was Steven Nelson, the six-year veteran who has been a starter at cornerback for the team for the previous two seasons after signing as an unrestricted free agent.
Nelson had played well in each of the past two seasons, and was a crucial part of their turning the secondary around into a top-10 unit, along with Minkah Fitzpatrick. But his $8.25 million base salary was too costly, and after the Steelers worked out a new deal for Cameron Sutton, they made the decision to let Sutton go.
Interestingly enough, he remains an unsigned free agent a week out from training camp. And the Steelers just so happen to have cap space that they didn’t expect to have, as a result of the release of David DeCastro upon learning that he would need ankle surgery.
One wonders if, had they known then what they know now, they would have just released DeCastro back in March and kept Nelson. In the (perhaps unlikely) event that the two parties do reunite, though, it would be on more favorable terms for the team.
Meanwhile, the Steelers have Sutton as option number one to start on the outside, but how much time he spends there will be determined by the race for the nickel. If they decide that James Pierre is their fifth-best defensive back, then Pierre will play on the outside for most of the snaps. Alternatively, they could go with Antoine Brooks Jr. to play in the slot, which would leave Sutton outside.