The Philadelphia Eagles caused a stir when they passed on a game-changing cornerback in the NFL draft (see: Asante Samuel Jr.). Maybe they were holding out for a Plan B option from the other side of the state.
The Pittsburgh Steelers released veteran cornerback Steven Nelson back in March after he requested a change of scenery. The 28-year-old begged the Steelers not to “hold me hostage” in Twitter comments, following what appeared to be a curious money-saving move. But Nelson later revealed that Pittsburgh never asked him to take a pay cut, instead choosing to move on with two unproven youngsters: Justin Layne and Cameron Sutton.
The Eagles were immediately linked to Nelson before the ink dried on his release papers. According to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, Philadelphia remains intrigued by the former third-round pick (2015) and he’s heard from the Eagles and 13 other NFL teams since hitting the open market.
Cornerback Steven Nelson’s market has been strong since becoming a free agent. Nelson has interest and has heard from 14 teams including #Texans #Bears #Eagles #Bengals and #Bills, per source. He continues to be patient waiting for right fit and opportunity.
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) May 12, 2021
Nelson acknowledged that he “outperformed his contract” in Pittsburgh, per Pro Football Talk. He was thought to be seeking a lucrative extension but not at the expense of handicapping the Steelers in free agency. It’s unclear whether he would have accepted less than the $8.25 million he was due. Nelson said those discussions never happened.
Free Agent CB Steve Nelson came on to clear the air about what happened in Pittsburgh that led to his release and how many suitors he has now.
“It was either a trade or release”
Take a listen 👇 pic.twitter.com/qio4zApGrH
— SiriusXM NFL Radio (@SiriusXMNFL) April 6, 2021
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Nelson Could Start Opposite Darius Slay in Week 1
The Eagles are desperate for a competent cornerback to start on the outside opposite Darius Slay and Nelson fits the bill. He has posted the 11th-best cornerback grade (78.1) in the league since 2019, per Pro Football Focus, while recording 291 tackles and seven interceptions in six seasons.
He’s also extremely durable having started 30 games over the past two seasons in Pittsburgh. Nelson began his career as a slot corner for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2015-18. He also forced the second-most incompletions (20).
“To watch his development over the course of his career at Kansas City, where he started as an inside player and last year proved a very capable outside player, we liked that versatility,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Nelson in 2019, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We believe we need that versatility, that inside-outside capability. We’re excited about the addition of him.”
— Bob Pompeani (@KDPomp) December 16, 2019
Zech McPhearson Ready to Compete
The Eagles did invest a fourth-round pick (123rd overall) in Zech McPhearson in last month’s draft. He could be a hidden gem or a reach pick, depending on whom you talk to since opinions are all over the board.
The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder registered 120 tackles and four interceptions in 46 college games. He transferred from Penn State to Texas Tech in 2019 and quickly took on a leadership role as a senior captain. He led the Red Raiders with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries in 2020 while ranking second in pass breakups with six.
👊🏻 Cool moment inside the Eagles draft room today
Zech McPhearson gets the call from Howie Roseman & Nick Sirianni
— Jeff Skversky (@JeffSkversky) May 1, 2021
Scouts see McPhearson more as a slot corner in the NFL due to his lack of reach (30 and 3/4-inch arms) and sluggish 40 time (4.53 seconds). However, the Maryland native comes from a long line of athletes in his family and doesn’t back down from any challenge. He played inside and outside in college, leading many to believe he can compete for the starting outside job in Philadelphia.
“I don’t really constrain myself to just one thing,” McPhearson told reporters on draft day. “I take pride in being versatile and being able to do multiple things on the field whether it’s inside, outside, or even back at safety. I always got a chip on my shoulder. That’s just the type of person I am.”