PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers released veteran cornerback Steven Nelson on Tuesday, opting to cut him rather than trade him, an announcement that came shortly after Nelson tweeted the team was “holding him hostage.”
The team gave the 28-year-old Nelson permission to explore trade destinations last Friday after the AFC North champions re-signed cornerback Cam Sutton to a two-year deal. Four days later, the Steelers abruptly parted with one of the NFL's better defenders in the middle of his prime.
The decision saves Pittsburgh about $8.25 million against salary cap, though Nelson does carry a $6.17 million hit in dead money.
Nelson signed a three-year, $25.5 million contract with the Steelers in 2019, one of the richest free-agent deals given out by the typically frugal (at least when it comes to splurging on the open market) clubs in the league. He and Joe Haden became one of the league's top cornerback tandems and one of the reasons the Steelers finished fifth in total defence in 2019 and third in 2020.
Yet Nelson became expendable — though not necessarily replaceable — when Pittsburgh opted to retain Sutton, whose deal is worth $9 million over the next two seasons. The Steelers also have 2019 third-round pick Justin Layne available to play the outside.
Nelson, who had three interceptions and 109 combined tackles in Pittsburgh, saw the writing on the wall and planned on finding a new team through a trade. His frustration bubbled over on Tuesday, however, when he took to social media to vent.
“Making a public announcement is a little out of my character, but you guys made your decision please don’t hold me hostage #dontholdmeback,” Nelson posted on his verified Twitter account.
The Steelers obliged almost immediately, releasing him an hour later. Nelson struck a more cordial tone after hitting the open market.
“Pittsburgh much love I appreciate the opportunity and the relationships I gained along the way,” he tweeted. “Respect to a Class A organization from top down. Thank you to my day 1 supporters and can’t forget my haters you motivate me more than you know.”
Nelson is one of a number of major defensive contributors to leave since the new league year began. Cornerback Mike Hilton signed with Cincinnati, defensive tackle Tyson Alualu reunited with Jacksonville and inside linebacker Vince Williams — the fourth-longest tenured member on the team — was let go.
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Will Graves, The Associated Press