Free-agent cornerbacks that could help replace the expected loss of Steven Nelson
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Out of nowhere on Friday, news came out that Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson is on the trade block and if a trade couldn't be reached, he would end up being released.
The Steelers would free up $8.25 million in cap space with Nelson traded or released, but the move appears to not be cap-related as JuJu Smith-Schuster was re-signed to a one-year, $8 million deal.
Here's the caveat though, Smith-Schuster has a $1 million base salary and a $7 million signing bonus along with four void years, so his cap hit this year is just $2.4 million. It is odd, however, that the Smith-Schuster news broke just a few minutes after it was known that Nelson was granted permission by the Steelers to seek a trade.
Why Nelson wants out of Pittsburgh is unclear as of right now, but it probably has to do with whatever the Steelers negotiated with him money-wise on a contract extension. Nelson is a solid player, he had a better year in 2019 than this past year, but he's not to the status where he can make such high demands to the Steelers when they're up against the cap.
It could be tough to find a trade partner with Nelson's salary and the fact that he's on the final year of his deal, but I think the Steelers can at least get a fifth-round pick. If not, they'll just cut him and move on.
So, how do the Steelers replace Nelson? Their top four cornerbacks as of right now are Joe Haden, the newly re-signed Cam Sutton, James Pierre, who made the team as an undrafted rookie free agent last year, and Justin Layne. With the $8.25 million that will be freed up with Nelson's likely departure, the Steelers could be in the market to sign a veteran cornerback. They could also look to the draft to replace Nelson and have a cornerback for the future, as Haden turns 32 next month.
With Kyle Fuller signing with the Broncos yesterday, Adoree' Jackson, who is 25, is the biggest name out there and Zach Banner has already started recruiting his fellow USC product and former teamamte on Twitter.
Spotrac has Jackson's market value at $12.4 million per year, so it might be too costly for the Steelers. However, if they can get him on the cheap, it would definitely be a good signing, as he's a young versatile cornerback that can play in the slot. Jackson is visiting with the Giants tonight.
According to Jordan Schultz of ESPN, the Giants have put a “high priority” on signing Jackson. Defensive backs Jabrill Peppers and Darnay Holmes are both recruiting the jack of all trades cornerback.
Cheaper free agent cornerback options are Malcolm Butler, Bashaud Breeland and Casey Hayward. Butler and Hayward are both 31, while Breeland is 29. Butler played all 16 games last season and had four interceptions, along with 14 passes defended. Breeland had two interceptions and nine passes defended in 11 games in 2020, while Hayward had one interception and eight passes defended in 14 games last season.
Butler and Breeland have both played on Super Bowl-winning teams and Hayward is a two-time Pro Bowler, along with being named second-team All-Pro twice. Any of the three cornerbacks would bring veteran leadership to the Steelers' secondary and would provide depth at cornerback.