It’s been three months since the Pittsburgh Steelers terminated the contract of starting cornerback Steven Nelson, just hours after he sent what he described as out of character tweet asking the team not to hold him “hostage.”
Never mind that he has “heard from” 14 teams since his release, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans. Fact is, Nelson remains unemployed, and his asking price may be the reason.
Steven Nelson’s Salary Demands
The team that has arguably expressed the strongest sustained interest is the Philadelphia Eagles, hardly a surprise, as the Eagles are in “dire straits” at the No. 2 cornerback position, this according to Adam Caplan, NFL Insider for Sirius XMNFL.
“They need somebody to step up and seize the spot opposite [Darius] Slay…. We know they’re going to add a veteran at point, I couldn’t tell you when,” says Caplan.
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The holdup, according to Josh Lynch of USA Today’s Eagles Wire, is that the Eagles don’t want to pay Nelson more than $3 million on a one-year deal.
No doubt such a relatively modest sum is an impediment in Nelson’s mind. According to overthecap.com, he earned an average of $8.625 million during the first two years of the three-year contract he was working under with the Steelers, and he arguably played well enough to continue earning a starter’s wage—or something close to it.
During his two seasons in Pittsburgh, Nelson earned a 78.1 overall grade from Pro Football Focus (PFF), tied for the 11th-highest grade among all cornerbacks over that time period.
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James Pierre the Leading Contender to Fill Steven Nelson’s Role?
Meanwhile, back in Pittsburgh the Steelers hope to find a cornerback who can serve as a reliable starter opposite CB1 Joe Haden, which would free up fifth-year veteran Cameron Sutton to play either inside or outside. One of the leading contenders is former undrafted free agent James Pierre, who is entering his second year in the league out of Florida Atlantic.
Pierre’s talents have attracted the attention of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and secondary coach Teryl Austin has also been very complimentary, saying, “I’m hoping we have all of a sudden found ourselves a nice, big corner for the future,” making reference to the fact that Pierre stands 6-foot-2.
Meanwhile, the Steelers also need to replace slot cornerback Mike Hilton, who signed a four-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in free agency. At the moment, the leading contender is second-year man Antoine Brooks Jr., acquired in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Rookie undrafted free agent Shakur Brown—who is said to “play like an angry hornet”—is another player who could eventually challenge for the slot corner job.
The Steelers are also hoping that former third-round pick Justin Layne steps up to be part of the solution on the outside, though head coach Mike Tomlin had that expectation last year and it failed to materialize. In April, Layne was arrested and charged with a firearm offense after a traffic stop, but he has already accepted a plea deal in the case.
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