UNITY TWP, Pa. – Steven Nelson is currently experiencing a summer of firsts.
For the first time in his career, the Steelers’ free agent acquisition isn’t surrounded by a group of teammates he’s familiar with. He isn’t playing in the same defensive scheme that he flourished in. He isn’t donning a red and white jersey in mid-summer heat at Missouri Western State University, where the Chiefs annually hold training camp. He isn’t playing for Andy Reid, the coach who drafted him. And he isn’t lining up alongside Eric Berry in the secondary.
In his first training camp with the Steelers, Nelson – a fifth-year corner out of Oregon State – has been tasked with acclimating to a whole new culture, coaching staff, team and playbook.
One person, in particular, who Nelson has leaned on through the transition is Joe Haden.
Nelson’s play during camp caught Mike Tomlin’s eye early on, and through 11 practices, he and Haden have held down the starting left and right cornerback positions, respectively.
“I just like his overall, general approach to the work,” Tomlin said on August 1. “He’s a consistently up performer. He’s a detail guy. You see why he’s opportunistic. I’m looking forward to him being opportunistic for us.”
Tomlin’s use of opportunistic is an accurate way to describe the defensive coaching staff’s emphasis during camp with the cornerbacks. They are calling for more aggressiveness than years past, particularly in jumping routes.
Nelson fits the script perfectly in that capacity.
“Just playing cornerback, you’re always having that edge and chip on your shoulder to make plays,” Nelson said. “You have to make some athletic plays sometimes going against these good high-powered offenses nowadays. You have to make some splash plays.”
This season, the secondary will look to take a step forward under the direction of new senior defensive assistant/secondary coach Teryl Austin. With the downfall of 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns, Keith Butler needed an aggressive corner he could trust opposite Haden, who would relieve some pressure off of an otherwise inexperienced cornerback core. After losing Coty Sensabaugh, the Steelers were left with Brian Allen, Cameron Sutton – both entering their third years with minimal starting experience – and rookie Justin Layne.
After Haden’s injury setback on Wednesday, Nelson will presumably be the team’s No. 1 corner when the Steelers open the preseason against the Buccaneers on Friday. However, Nelson said he wasn’t sure about how much playing time he’ll receive – but regardless, he just wants to be out there.
“I want to play,” he said. “That’s just who I am.
Art Rooney: Meeting with Ben Roethlisberger ‘Productive,’ Work to Be Done on Contract
Steelers president Art Rooney II acknowledged his meeting with team quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, but said no agreement has been made with regards to his contract situation for the 2021 season.
Rooney said that the team desires to have Roethlisberger return for an 18th season in 2021, and Roethlisberger re-affirmed his desire to return to the team.
“Ben Roethlisberger and I met (Tuesday) morning and we had a productive meeting,” Rooney said in a statement. “We were able to discuss a lot of things that relate to where we are and where we want to go. Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to help us win a championship.
“We both understand that the next step is to work out Ben’s contract situation.”
Roethlisberger had already publicly stated that he wanted to return to the team. Rooney and Steelers general manger Kevin Colbert have been more guarded about Roethlisberger’s future in the past.
It seems clear now that both sides are committed to Roethlisberger returning, but the contract details could still represent a significant hurdle. Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.
The Steelers are approximately $12.4 million above a projected $180.5 million salary cap, according to a Steelers Now estimate. The official salary cap for the 2021 has not yet been released, but is expected to be between $180 and $185 million, according to Steelers Now sources. NBC Sports reported on Tuesday that it could come it at $182-183 million.
The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure. They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.
Report: Ben Roethlisberger’s Agent Says He Will Return in 2021
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner reportedly says he will return as the team’s quarterback in 2021, according to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.
Kinkhabwala tweeted Tuesday she had spoken with Tollner, who confirmed the Steelers want Roethlisberger back in the fall, and will soon reach out to his agent to rectify his massive cap hit.
“As we’ve shared since the season ended, we are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible,” Tollner told Kinkhabwala. “A year ago, Ben wasn’t sure if he could throw again, but he battled back to get 12 wins and the 8th division title of his career. They lost steam down the stretch and that doesn’t sit well for him, so the fire burns strong and there is plenty of gas in the tank.”
Roethlisberger’s $41 million cap hit is the largest in the league entering the 2021 season, which poses a significant obstacle for the Steelers. He could forgo up to nearly $18 million of his salary for this upcoming season to provide the team some much-needed breathing room.
Roethlisberger finished with a successful season statistically in 2020, but was plagued by inconsistency, as the Steelers dropped five of six following an 11-0 start.
The two-time Super Bowl champion passed for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions, but saw his play drop over the latter half of the year.
Roethlisberger is set to turn 39 years old on March 2.
Report: Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger Met to Discuss Future
The Pittsburgh Steelers met with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to begin discussions on his contract situation for the 2021 season, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.
Roethlisberger met with team president Art Rooney II and the meeting “went well,” according to Dulac.
The two sides had not come together to discuss Roethlisberger’s future since just after the end of the 2020 season in January.
Rooney and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert have said that Roethlisberger and the team will need to come to an agreement on contract modifications that will reduce his salary cap hit for the 2021 season.
Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.
The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure.
They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.