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3 best landing spots for NFL free-agent cornerback Steven Nelson

Matt Johnson

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Steven Nelson wanted the Pittsburgh Steelers to not make him a hostage, so the franchise released one of its best defensive backs. Months later, Nelson remains a free agent but that could change in the near future.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported in May that 14 teams expressed interest in Nelson, but there have been limited updates since. With NFL training camp drawing closer, that will change. Let’s dive into a few potential landing spots for the talented corner.

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Steven Nelson signs with Philadelphia Eagles

Adam Caplan reported on Sirius XM Radio that Philadelphia “really likes” Nelson and believes he could pair nicely with Darius Slay. Some NFL rumors have also suggested that the Eagles could be a fit for Richard Sherman.

Realistically, the Eagles have no shot at Sherman. It’s about more than just money, which the Eagles don’t even have a ton of right now. The future Hall of Fame cornerback wants to play for a Super Bowl contender. Simply put, Philadelphia is one of the teams furthest from that in 2021. That’s why Nelson makes more sense.

The 2015 third-round pick played even better prior to the 2020 season. He received a stellar 80.3 grade for his pass coverage from Pro Football Focus in 2019, allowing a reception on just 51.5% of targets. For his career, the 5-foot-11 cornerback has surrendered just a 55.7% reception rate and 12.8 yards per catch. Compare that to Avonte Maddox (102.7 passer rating allowed) and it’s easy to understand why the Eagles view Nelson as an upgrade.

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Dallas Cowboys address one of NFL’s worst secondaries

Steven Nelson, Dallas Cowboys
Oct 28, 2019; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson (22) reacts after a play against the Miami Dolphins during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys 2021 draft class is the latest sign of this organization’s failure to address a glaring need. Instead of trading up for Patrick Surtain II or Jaycee Horn in the 2021 NFL Draft, Dallas sat back and watched both players taken off the board. After that, the front office reached for developmental cornerbacks on Day 2.

This group is shaping up to be one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2021. Fortunately, there’s still an opportunity for the Cowboys to address this. Nelson would start immediately for the Cowboys, likely becoming their No. 1 cornerback.

Put a quality cover corner in Dan Quinn’s defense, life becomes a lot easier for the Cowboys’ pass rush. Dallas can mix in different looks and a secondary filled with young corners will have someone to learn from. If Jerry Jones is willing to spend a little more money, Nelson would boost the Cowboys’ playoff hopes.

New York Jets sign Steven Nelson

Steven Nelson, New York Jets
Jan 3, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talks with cornerback Steven Nelson (22) during the first quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

In a perfect world, Robert Saleh convinces Richard Sherman to join the Jets. But unless New York makes an offer that blows every other contract bid out of the water, New York must look elsewhere. Nelson is a great alternative for the Jets.

Heading into training camp, the Jets are set to count on Blessuan Austin and Corey Ballentine to play a significant number of snaps this season. Saleh is one of the NFL’s best defensive minds and is capable of working wonders, but even he can’t do a lot with that. New York must find more help to take the pressure off promising corner Bryce Hall.

The Jets might be the ideal landing spot for Nelson. They still have $30 million in cap space, more than enough to make signing with a rebuilding team worth it. Plus, operating in Saleh’s scheme and learning from this coaching staff would be a great opportunity for him. If everything works out and Nelson thrives this season in a big market, he can test NFL free agency again in 2022 to land a long-term deal.

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