After just two years into a three-year, $25.5 million contract, the Pittsburgh Steelers released starting cornerback Steven Nelson on March 23 as a salary cap casualty. While the six-year veteran has said that he has had contact from over half the teams in the league, he remains unsigned just weeks before teams begin reporting to training camp.
Under normal circumstances, one would assume that he might sign soon, though that’s not necessarily the case. He could also wait for an injury opportunity to present itself. Reportedly, he is looking for a deal that would total more than $3 million. He was due to make more than double that in his final year with the Steelers.
The Philadelphia Eagles have previously been connected to Nelson’s market. While he doesn’t have any say in the matter, Eagles cornerback Darius Slay tried his hand at recruiting recently. “That green will look good on ya”, he tweeted. Nelson replied, “it could all be so simple my man”.
It could all be so simple my man #Nelsonisland
— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) July 6, 2021
Presumably, Nelson’s comment refers to his desire to play with Slay, as a fellow Georgia native, if only he and the Eagles could work out terms on a contract. Should he sign with Philadelphia, he would also reunite with former teammate Javon Hargrave, who played with the Steelers from 2016 through 2019 before signing in free agency with the cross-state rivals.
Nelson, a third-round pick by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017, spent most of the early part of his career as a sub-package defender before moving to the outside full-time in 2018. He played well enough to earn himself the biggest free agent contract the Steelers have ever handed out to an outside unrestricted free agent at $8.5 million per year (Joe Haden, who got $9 million per year, was a street free agent in August of 2017).
While he received no adornments, Nelson played well during his two years in Pittsburgh. He started 30 games, recording 109 tackles with three interceptions and 17 passes defensed. He did not allow a single touchdown during the 2019 season, though he surrendered a few a year ago.
The Steelers were in a very tough spot against the salary cap and decided that Nelson’s contract and the relative strength of the position—with Haden in tow, Cameron Sutton re-signed, and a couple of young up-and-comers—would be the best route to take, in conjunction with several other moves.
There is no question that the 28-year-old can still very much play in this league, and that it’s only a matter of time before he signs on with some team, perhaps sooner rather than later. The biggest question is simply where. While Philadelphia may be in-state, at least it’s not in the AFC.