Cowboys Speculated to Acquire Former Steelers Starting CB

Steven Nelson

Getty Steven Nelson defends a pass in a game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Though the Dallas Cowboys have entered a six-week pre-training camp respite, there remains on the free-agent market several splash players whom they could consider adding amid the quietest period on the NFL calendar.

One such player, according to Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon, is former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson. Gagnon recently lumped Dallas among five “logical landing spots” for Nelson, along with the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, Washington Football Team, and San Francisco 49ers.

Veteran cornerback Steven Nelson struggled with seven touchdowns allowed in coverage with the Steelers in 2020, but he surrendered zero scores in 2019. At the age of 28, he’s just a couple of years removed from a four-interception campaign with the Chiefs.

He has extensive experience both outside and in the slot, and only 10 qualified corners have earned higher grades from Pro Football Focus since the start of the 2019 season.

A salary-cap casualty beyond the initial wave of free agency, Nelson appears to be biding his time. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported in May that 14 teams had expressed interest, but the reality is he might also be waiting for veteran star Richard Sherman to land somewhere first.

Whoever does land him will wind up with a durable top-four corner and possibly even a starter for several years to come.

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Background on Nelson & Potential Fit

The 28-year-old entered the league as a 2015 third-round pick of the Chiefs. He spent his first four seasons in Kansas City, notching 158 solo tackles, 35 pass deflections, and four interceptions across 52 appearances, including 38 starts.

Nelson spun his experience into a $25.5 million free-agent contract with Pittsburgh in 2019. He totaled 95 solo stops, 17 PDs, and three INTS over the last 30 games.

The Steelers released Nelson on March 23 at the latter’s request, unable to secure a trade and unwilling to reduce his salary-cap figure. The Oregon State product has since drawn interest from “14 teams,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported last month, naming the Texans, Bears, Eagles, Bengals, and Bills as specific suitors.

If signed by Dallas — which has just $5.127 million in remaining cap room — Nelson likely slides in as an immediate starter, bookending 2020 second-rounder Trevon Diggs. His presence would force fellow veteran Anthony Brown to the bench and relegate rookies Kelvin Joseph and Nahshon Wright to backup roles.

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Houston Also Linked to Dallas

In addition to Nelson, Gagnon identified ex-Chiefs and Colts edge rusher Justin Houston, a four-time Pro Bowler, as a possible pre-camp acquisition for the Cowboys. The Chiefs, Dolphins, Ravens, and Vikings were also connected in the Houston sweepstakes.

Justin Houston might not have a whole lot left at age 32, but the four-time Pro Bowler has put up at least eight sacks in each of the last four seasons with the Chiefs and Colts.

The key is you can no longer consider him an every-down player after he was on the field for just 59 percent of Indy’s defensive snaps despite starting 16 games in 2020. But there’s little reason to believe he can’t continue to serve as an effective situational pass-rusher for a contending team that has some money to spend on a short-term deal.

Besides, he’s far from a liability, having missed just four tackles the last two seasons combined.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter: @KelbermanNFL

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