As free agency neared, the Steelers had one of the league’s worst cap situations. One of their starters may have tried to add a mutually beneficial wrinkle to the team’s cap sheet.
Steven Nelson believed he had outplayed the three-year, $25.5MM contract the Steelers gave him in 2019. The veteran cornerback sought an extension that would bring his 2021 cap number down while adding some guarantees and a pay raise, but the Steelers disagreed, Nelson said during a Sirius XM Radio interview with Pat Kirwan and Jim Miller (Twitter link). This led to the Steelers giving Nelson permission to seek a trade, a process that quickly gave way to the team releasing its two-year starting corner.
Prior to the release, Nelson said the Steelers did not offer him the option of a pay cut (Twitter link via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly). One year remained on Nelson’s previous deal, which called for him to earn $8.25MM in 2021. It would have been a strange development for Nelson to accept a pay reduction, given that he sought an extension that would bump his salary. But it will be difficult for Nelson, at this juncture, to match the salary he would have earned as a Steeler next season.
The former third-round pick said 10 to 15 teams have “serious interest” (Twitter link). While that seems high given the current marketplace, the 28-year-old defender figures to have an opportunity to be a starter elsewhere in 2021. Nelson joins Richard Sherman, Casey Hayward, A.J. Bouye and Dre Kirkpatrick as veteran corners available. Nelson has experience both outside and in the slot, having played in the latter role for a bit with the Chiefs. The six-year veteran graded as a top-40 corner, per Pro Football Focus, in each of his two Pittsburgh seasons.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.