(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Cornerback Steven Nelson was released today by the Steelers and the move was strictly cap-related, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dulac says Nelson didn't ask for a trade. The Steelers told him to seek a trade or be released.
Adam Schefter of ESPN reported on Friday that cornerback Nelson was granted permission by the Steelers to seek a trade. The Steelers couldn't find a trade partner and four days later he was let go.
By parting ways with Nelson, the Steelers saved $8.25 million in cap space, but they'll take on a dead money charge of $6.17 million, according to Spotrac. The Steelers now have $8.6 million in cap room, so they were in desperate need of cap relief.
Being that the Nelson news on Friday broke just a few minutes before it was announced that JuJu Smith-Schuster re-signed with the Steelers on a one-year, $8 million deal. Instantly people thought the two decisions were connected. Sacrificing Nelson to retain Smith-Schuster it appeared.
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. The fact that both happenings occurred around the same time does make it peculiar, however.
Many assumed that Nelson wanted out of Pittsburgh due to a disagreement over money on a contract extension with the Steelers, or if the team asked him to take a pay cut and he refused.
Dulac says Nelson was well-respected by his peers and it was just simply a matter of the Steelers not having the cap space to pay him in 2021.
Ed Bouchette of The Athletic wrote an article today about the release of Nelson, and he is skeptical if it had to do purely with saving cap space.
"If the Steelers wanted to trade Nelson, why not do it themselves and do it before free agency?" Bouchette wrote. "If they could not trade him but still wanted to release him, the same held true: Why not do it before free agency began? Giving a player permission to seek a trade is an acknowledgment the Steelers could not find one themselves. Usually, when the player (or rather his agent) is allowed to seek a trade, he won’t find one and is cut when he doesn’t, and that has happened.
"The Steelers almost always cut players they knew would not be part of that season’s roster before free agency began. That way, it gives the player a better chance to find another home and clears cap space as the team enters free agency. This one smells differently. It sounds more like the Steelers either wanted Nelson to take a pay cut for 2021 or offered an extension and that he declined either."
We probably won't know the complete nature of why Nelson was released ever unless Nelson reveals it down the road. But as of right now, we just have to take Dulac's word for it and that it was just a tough business decision in a climate where the cap went down almost $16 million from last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.