Determined to upgrade their secondary, the Pittsburgh Steelers agreed to a three-year, $25.5 million contract with free agent cornerback Steven Nelson, NFL Network reported Tuesday night.
The deal cannot be finalized until Wednesday at 4 p.m., the start of the new NFL calendar year.
Nelson, who turned 26 in January, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. He has made 38 starts in 52 career games.
Nelson was the Chiefs’ third-round draft pick in 2015 out of Oregon State.
Last year, he started all 16 games for the first time and had four interceptions among 15 passes defensed. He also had a career-high 68 tackles for a Chiefs defense that allowed the second-most passing yards in the NFL.
“I’m all smiles right now,” Nelson wrote on his Twitter account. “Can’t be happier they got a straight worker!!!”
I’m all smiles right now can’t be happier they got a straight worker !!! #SteelersNation
— Steve Nelson (@Nelson_Island) March 12, 2019
Before signing Nelson, the Steelers made a pitch to former Denver Broncos corner Bradley Roby, who reportedly spurned their three-year offer to sign a one-year, $10 million deal with the Houston Texans.
Although Nelson had four interceptions last year, he didn’t have any in his first three NFL seasons, and he also missed the first half of the 2017 season after undergoing core muscle surgery.
General manager Kevin Colbert said in February that the Steelers wanted to find players on defense who would force turnovers.
“We need more young playmakers, especially in the back end,” Colbert said. “The young kids that we have have to continue to get better and make more plays, and we must continue to search and look for more playmakers.”
Steelers cornerbacks produced four combined interceptions in 2018, with starter Joe Haden leading with two. The two players used at the starting spot opposite Haden — Artie Burns and Coty Sensabaugh — didn’t have an interception last season. Burns has four career interceptions but only one since his rookie season.
Burns, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, lost his job to Sensabaugh early in the season and might not make the roster this season. Burns would count $3.05 million against the salary cap, and the Steelers would save almost $1.8 million by releasing him. Sensabaugh is a free agent.
The Steelers also have slot corner Mike Hilton and backups Cameron Sutton, Brian Allen and Herb Waters on their 90-man offseason roster.
With the addition of Nelson, the Steelers can focus on securing an inside linebacker and wide receiver early in the draft.