The biggest hole on the Philadelphia Eagles roster is the seconc cornerback position, and GM Howie Roseman has finally done something about it. The team signed former Pittsburgh Steelers CB Steven Nelson on a one-year, four million dollar deal.
Philadelphia Eagles Get Their CB2: Steven Nelson
Steven Nelson Info
Nelson is 28, drafted in the third round by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2015. He’s been an every game starter each year he’s been healthy since his rookie year. Nelson played for the Chiefs for four years before moving onto the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019. He checks in at 5-11, 194 pounds. It’s not small, but he is below six feet, which more and more NFL defenses are shying away from these days.
Steven Nelson isn’t a ballhawk, as he’s only notched seven total interceptions in his six-year career, with four in 2018 being his career-high. Nelson usually does better in the passes defensed category. He’s finished in the top-10 twice in his career, and his nine last year is an above average mark. Nelson has played both man and zone, and even filled in at the slot last year at times, showing he has great versatility. That’s big, considering how injury-prone the Eagles have been in recent years.
He had the best year of his career in 2019 for the Steelers, posting a fantastic 80.5 PFF grade, which was sixth-best in the league. The 68.1 grade he had in 2020 was good for 36th, which isn’t bad at all considering 64 cornerbacks start. Not only that, it was higher than any Eagles cornerback, and he was a full 60 places higher than any Eagles cornerback not named Darius Slay. If you want even more context on what an upgrade this was, Nelson should be taking Avonte Maddox’s place on that outside, which will bump Maddox to the slot. Maddox finished 2020 with a 37.8 grade, the lowest qualifying cornerback in the entire league.
What Does This Mean For the Eagles Defense?
The secondary makes a huge improvement with Nelson’s addition. He isn’t a star cornerback (although it could be argued he was one of the best CBs in 2019) but he’s very solid. Across from Slay, that’s all they really need. Too often the Eagles saw opposing teams pick on the various corners outside of Slay. With Nelson there, that is no longer such an easy task.
Not only that, but Maddox gets to move to his much more natural slot corner position, which should shore up that area as well. All in all, the secondary, which was a very average or below average unit last year, moves up significantly.
Causes for Concern?
Nelson was released by the Steelers on March 23rd in a cap move, which was Nelson’s second year of a three-year deal. It is also a bit troubling that Nelson lasted so long with the play he has shown (although he wasn’t available in the initial rush of free agency due to his late release) and the fact that the Eagles got him on a pretty cheap, low commitment deal probably means the bidding market wasn’t terribly fierce. Still, he’s proven himself a capable (at worst) NFL starter for multiple years.
Grading the Steven Nelson Move
Despite the seemingly chill market for Nelson, Howie Roseman pulled off a slam dunk here. The Eagles are getting a good cornerback, which they desperately needed on a low-priced, one-year deal. The base salary is just $2.5 million, and goes up to four with incentives. This is the type of move that is basically a win no matter what. If he plays well, that’s great, the Eagles get a good player on a cheap deal (Nelson’s contract at its peak would make him the 40th highest paid CB). If he stinks, it’s just one year on a team that probably wasn’t going to compete anyways, and the Eagles can move on in 2022 as if nothing happened. It’s a far cry from previous free agent corner disasters, like Nnamdi Asomugha and Cary Williams, who got expensive multi-year deals they didn’t live up to at all.