PITTSBURGH — The Steelers had tough decisions to make in the 2020 offseason, and as the full team gathers for the first time this week for minicamp at Heinz Field, there are significant absences from the 2019 squad.
Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva is in Baltimore. Slot corner Mike Hilton is in Cincinnati. Running back James Conner is in Arizona.
At some level, some of that turnover was expected, with the Steelers already facing a significant salary cap crunch and then the COVID-19 pandemic pushing down revenues and causing the cap to come in well below preseason estimates.
Perhaps the most surprising of those decisions was the one to let starting cornerback Steven Nelson go. Nelson, who still hasn’t found a new team, was the Steelers starter for two years, but the team will move forward without him or Hilton and without drafting a corner.
The combination of moves surprised many, including fellow starting cornerback Joe Haden.
“I was a little surprised,” Haden said on Wednesday. “But you know, it’s the business thing. I think I had a lot to do with just cap numbers. Me and him both are older players and we’ll have one year left on our deals and the salary cap being what it was, I just think it was a business decision. … We have so much talent on one team. Sometimes you can’t keep everybody.”
The decision to release Nelson well after the start of free agency also has the player that is perhaps the most talented of the former Steelers no longer with the team without a home as minicamps wrap around the league.
“It sucks,” Haden said. “Steve is a baller. I can’t wait for him to land on his feet. I’ve been trying to keep in contact with him. I know he has options of teams. That’s just a very, very tough part of the business where it’s just a numbers thing.”
The numbers have struck the Steelers in multiple places this offseason, but no where more than in the cornerback’s room.