Should the Eagles consider bringing Steven Nelson back for another season?
Arguably one of the most skillful and challenging positions in all sports is playing cornerback in the NFL. But spending every week across from one of the best defensive backs in the league when you know you will be targeted is another difficulty level on its own. Darius Slay is playing at an all All-Pro level and could be considered a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
The Eagles gave Steven Nelson a one-year deal worth $3.01M to be Slay’s running mate and most likely the “mark” of many opposing offenses. However, through 12 weeks, Darius has 53 targets compared to Nelson’s 51. I expected a much higher discrepancy as Slay proves year after year that he’s still one of the best shutdown corners in the league. On top of that, Nelson’s played 465 coverage snaps to Slay’s 423.
Steven Nelson vs. Darius Slay in 2021:
Besides the yards per reception allowed and catch percentage, the former Chief/Steeler looks stout in coverage this season operating across from a legendary All-Pro cornerback. So should the Eagles consider bringing back Steven Nelson on another short-term deal as a “stop-gap” between a future starter? Or should they let this one-year rental go back into the free agency market and hope to land a premier cornerback in the draft?
My answer is a mixture of both. Nelson is far from a liability in the secondary, but the 2022 draft class has serious talent at the cornerback position. If everything goes according to plan with the Dolphins sucking and the Colts collapsing to miss the playoffs, the Eagles should have three picks within the first 18 of the first-round in 2022. Prospects like LSU’s Derek Stingley Jr, Cincinnati’s Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Florida’s Kaiir Elam, and many more fill the future need for a shutdown cornerback.
Many rookies hit the ground running at cornerback in the NFL; see Patrick Surtain II with the Broncos and Asante Samuel Jr with the Chargers. But, many deal with severe growing pains, and it takes them a couple of years to get used to the skill gap between college and the pros.
If the price is right for Steven Nelson to come back on a one to two-year deal, I will welcome him back as long as the Eagles still use a first or second-round pick on another cornerback. And if whatever rookie drafted turns heads in training camp as a clear number one starter, a veteran corner on a team-friendly deal could be a nice trade piece before the 2022 season.
Steven Nelson may hit free agency and sign a multi-year contract with another team, which I think is the most probable outcome. However, having the seven-year veteran as another mentor to a young first-round cornerback or stepping up as a potential starter until that rookie is ready to hit the field is a valuable member to any NFL team.
Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sports