(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Steven Nelson wanting out of Pittsburgh came out of nowhere. It seemed like everything was going fine. He had a great year in 2019 and followed it with an impressive season in 2020. He was on a defense with the likes of T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Devin Bush and Joe Haden.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Friday that Nelson was granted permission by the Steelers to seek a trade. Just a few minutes later, news broke that JuJu Smith-Schuster was re-signed to a one-year, $8 million deal. Instantly people linked the two happenings together. Trading or releasing Nelson frees up $8.25 million in cap space and Smith-Schuster is making $8 million in 2021. That's it. There you have it.
It wasn't that quite simple, however. A few hours later the details of the contract were released and it was reported that Smith-Schuster has a $1 million base salary and a $7 million signing bonus in 2021 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 around the same time that Steelers Nation found out that Nelson was on the trade block.
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 worth overpaying for. There were times in 2020 when he looked vulnerable as well. The game against Buffalo in Week 14 first comes to mind.
In my opinion, Nelson is a very good No. 2 cornerback. No. 1 cornerbacks create interceptions and make plays on the ball. Nelson has recorded just three interceptions and 17 passes defended in his two seasons with the Steelers. In his six-year career, he has produced just seven interceptions. He's not a No. 1 cornerback, so he shouldn't be paid like one.
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.
One team out there that might be willing to trade for Nelson resides on the other side of the state. The Eagles make a lot of sense. They need a No. 2 cornerback to pair with Darius Slay.
Mike Kaye of NJ.com recently wrote an interesting article on why the Eagles should trade for Nelson. Kaye says the Eagles badly need cornerback help opposite Slay this season and Avonte Maddox is likely to move back into the slot following a miserable year on the outside, so adding an experienced starting cornerback through free agency -- or a trade -- would be ideal.
Kaye thinks Nelson would cost a fifth-round pick or more in a trade and the Eagles have a lot of draft capital on Day 3 of the draft with seven picks -- two fifth-round picks, three sixth-round picks and two seventh-round picks. Possibly the Steelers can get a fifth-and sixth-round pick for Nelson.
According to Overthecap.com, an extension to Nelson’s contract could save the Eagles roughly $5.8 million in cap space this season, and Philadelphia's cap situation is horrendous right now.
To make the deal even more interesting, maybe the Steelers inquirer about Eagles tight end Zach Ertz. They certainly could use another tight end with Eric Ebron as their only legit option at the position. The Eagles are shopping Ertz right now and are not getting great offers for him.
According to Marcel Louis-Jacques, who covers the Bills for ESPN, multiple sources told him the Eagles’ asking price for Ertz was “as high as a 3rd-round pick,” and Buffalo was never interested in the tight end.
Eagles general manager Howie Roseman said he'll only move on from Ertz if it made sense for Philadelphia. So why not Nelson? It would give the Eagles a for sure No. 2 cornerback in their secondary.
It also makes sense for the Steelers, Ertz is due $8.25 million in 2021 on the final year of a five-year, $42.5 million extension. What Ertz makes would essentially offset the $8.25 million in cap space the Steelers free up by trading Nelson.
Jon Marks of Sports Radio 94 WIP in Philadelphia told the Renegade Blitz that he could definitely see the Eagles trading for a cornerback and they have a definite need at the position.
"As far as Ertz, I’d be shocked if they got a third," Marks said. "He’s coming off a poor year and is making a decent amount of money in the final year of his deal. I think he’d be a good value for a playoff team needing an upgrade. I guess it depends on how many teams are interested. Seems to me if the Eagles had a decent trade offer, they’d already have made the deal. I’d see maybe a conditional fifth or sixth-rounder."
Ertz, 30, had just 36 receptions for 335 yards and one touchdown in 11 games last year for Philadelphia, but they had issues at quarterback and finished the season 4-11-1. In 2018, Ertz had 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns. He's also is a three-time Pro Bowler. Perhaps a change of scenery is all that Ertz needs. I mean, it was a disaster of a season last year in Philadelphia with a lot of turmoil and head coach Doug Pederson ended up being fired after the season.
The Steelers have a need at tight end, likewise for the Eagles at cornerback. The Steelers could swap Nelson for Ertz in a trade. Conditional late-round picks probably would be added on both ends as well.
If the Ertz scenario doesn't end up working, the Steelers trading Nelson for a fifth-round pick makes sense regardless. The Eagles have two fifth-round picks and need a No. 2 cornerback. Kevin Colbert should be on the phone with Roseman right now working out a deal.