On Friday, March 19, news broke of the Pittsburgh Steelers allowing starting cornerback Steven Nelson to seek a trade. The move seemed to catch numerous Steelers fans off guard as they were enjoying quality cornerback play the like they had not seen for several seasons. By the following Tuesday, Nelson was granted his release and is currently a street free agent.
So what exactly happened to cause the parting of ways between Nelson and the Steelers? Many assumed, me included, the two sides were working out changes in his contract for 2021 and simply didn’t see eye-to-eye. It was a logical conclusion as the Steelers were needing to reduce their salary cap and Nelson was a prime candidate for a contract extension.
This appears to not be the case.
In a recent interview on the “Movin’ the Chains” podcast with Jim Miller and Pat Kirwan on SiriusXM Radio, Nelson opened up about his departure from Pittsburgh. One of the revelations of the situation according to Nelson was there was no effort from the Steelers to change anything about Nelson’s contract prior to informing him to seek a trade and then granting his release. I was able to have Steven Nelson personally confirm this to me that this was the situation.
Here is how Nelson explained the situation on “Movin’ the Chains” on Tuesday.
“It came down to me being traded, or being released, and I just want to make it very clear, to those out there who might not know or are assuming, that there was never a discussion with me being able to get take a pay cut,” Nelson explained. “I was never even given that opportunity to take a pay cut. It was either trade or release. I just want to clear that up.”
What Nelson failed to explain was if he would have been willing to take the pay cut he was not offered. Of course, we will never know if the Steelers simply chose to move on from Nelson and not work out his contract in any way. Based on other portions of the interview with Nelson, it appears unlikely he would have been on board with taking a pay cut as he feels he has over-performed his contract with the Steelers over the past two seasons.
“I felt, and also my agent felt, that we were due an extension due to the fact that I had outplayed my current contract for the past two years,” Nelson explained. “Given that where the corner market is, there was a lot of high cap numbers on the team going into the offseason. Everybody can put two and two together. Somebody like myself, in my prime, would have thought to help that situation, and an extension would at least be at the front of the line for discussion. But it clearly didn’t go that way for whatever reason. The Steelers wanted to move a different way and thought I was expendable in my prime via trade.”
Although the Steelers made the decision to move on, Nelson believes he has more than proved himself to be deserving of a sizable contract with another NFL franchise.
“I know my value.” Nelson stated. “I know my worth. I just turned 28. Being a five-year starter, a proven starter. I’ve played over a thousand snaps, maybe the only corner who has played a thousand snaps in the last three years. If you’re talking durability and what teams want, you know what you’re going to get.”
According to Nelson, there are a number of teams who understand the value he brings enough to at least inquire about his services.
“I don’t what to put out the exact teams, but let’s just say about a third of the NFL, a lot of corner-needed teams, have reached out,” Nelson stated.
Even though things didn’t work out in the end with the Steelers, Nelson does not hold a grudge against the franchise for having to do what they did in a salary-cap-strapped season.
“I have no ill will towards the Steelers,” Nelson confessed. “It is what it is. You can’t cry over spilled milk. They made their decision, I’m a man about it, and we move on. I wish them the best.”
So it appears the book on Steven Nelson in Pittsburgh has been closed. Exactly what the Steelers thought process is has not yet been explained, and likely never will. Perhaps it was strictly a numbers game as the Steelers would have been on the hook to pay Nelson $8.25 million for 2021. Perhaps it was that the Steelers felt bringing back Cam Sutton fit more in line with their defensive philosophy. Perhaps the Steelers felt that Nelson believed he carried more monetary value than what they were willing to pay for his services despite not even having a discussion. Perhaps it was simply a “cost above replacement” move.
As much as Nelson’s interview answered some questions, it raised even more. But at this point in the 2021 offseason, and with Steven Nelson a free agent, these simply aren’t questions which will make any difference to the 2021 Steelers when it comes to taking the field this fall. Instead, it’s simply “next man up” at the cornerback position.
Steven Nelson‘s entire interview on “Movin’ the Chains” can be heard here: