No NFL team is infallible when it comes to decision making. For every solid decision on a player there’s one that was awful. Kevin Colbert and the Pittsburgh Steelers are no different. Today’s release of cornerback Steven Nelson is a decision that right now, is in limbo in terms of its’ long term fate. Was it a good decision or will it prove to be a bad one?
Nelson v Haden
Sources have told us that the Steelers approached both Nelson and Joe Haden about contract restructures, extensions, etc. Colbert and company did this because they were realizing that keeping both was going to be nearly impossible. I’m a big fan of Joe Haden and I appreciate what he’s accomplished in the Steel City but making Nelson the priority seemed like an obvious choice.
Nelson is younger and perhaps hasn’t reached his ceiling despite a down season in 2020. I say “down” only in comparison to his 2019 which was really good. Haden will be 32 years old in April and I thought there were moments when his age showed last year. 30 years of age is usually the baseline for most cornerbacks to start declining. I view Haden as still better than many other corners in the league but… is he really the guy you want to extend?
Nelson and his agent allegedly came back to the Steelers with a number that was way too high. I’m all for being confident and betting on yourself but Nelson was reportedly looking for money that would have put him in the top three to five corners in the league.
Again, I think Nelson was a really good signing and played well for most of his two seasons here but he’s not anywhere near that level in my opinion. The Steelers didn’t either and that’s how we got to today. Within an hour of Nelson’s tweet…
Making a public announcement is a little out of my character, but you guys made your decision please don’t hold me hostage #dontholdmeback
— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) March 23, 2021
…The Steelers announced they had released him. They will earn about $8 million in salary cap savings with the move.
So What Now?
Assuming Haden is your starter on one side at the age of 32, who starts on the other? If it’s Cam Sutton then there is a massive hole at the nickel corner which is essentially a starting position. I know the Steelers liked what James Pierre did last season but do they like him enough to depend so heavily on him? Is this also the year Justin Layne either makes or breaks himself?
Perhaps the bigger question is, “how much does this impact the draft preparation?” That’s hard to say with so many areas of need. The Steelers have only drafted a corner in the first round twice in the last two plus decades (Chad Scott, Artie Burns) so I don’t see them going there. At this current time, I expect to see a free agent signed first and then they’ll react to the draft afterwards.
We aren’t going to know how the decision to release Nelson works until we are well into the 2021 season. Therefore it’s hard to jump to conclusions. One thing is clear though, the Steelers have work to do in their secondary.