Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last decade, the Eagles have encountered issue after issue at the cornerback position.
Now, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, Philadelphia possesses two proven starters at both outside cornerback spots in Darius Slay and Steven Nelson after the team signed the defensive back to a one-year, $4 million deal that will count $1.5M against the salary cap due to the addition of voidable years.
Nelson will have to play catch-up in new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon’s scheme on the heels of training camp, but, fortunately for Nelson, he’s not far behind the rest of the defense since the new schemes were put in just this past spring.
Nelson, who’s been Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked cornerback since 2019 (78.1 grade), sat on the open market for quite some time in hopes of securing a long-term commitment. After accepting a one-year deal in Philadelphia, the 28-year-old cornerback will have to join a crowd of players on the Eagles roster needing to prove themselves for longer commitments.
After speaking to Noah Strackbein, who covers the Pittsburgh Steelers for AllSteelers.com of Sports Illustrated, it’s clear the Eagles got the caliber of player they were targeting to be their CB2.
“Nelson is a gritty corner who stays quiet. He's not the guy who's going to make splash play after splash play, but he's reliable. Operating opposite of Joe Haden, he was part of the best secondary the Steelers saw in a long time - and I emphasize long,” said Strackbein.
“There's still plenty left in the tank at 28-years-old and that'll show. Even after somewhat of a down year, you knew he was a starting cornerback coming into this offseason. He's a great fit for a team like Philly who has that true No. 1 corner but needs a strong No. 2. Offenses can't take him for granted, which will lead to other defensive backs - and Nelson - getting plenty of opportunities to make plays.”
Nelson has been nothing short of consistent for the Steelers after arriving in Pittsburgh in 2019. The cornerback played 1,011 snaps his first year. The team only allowed one touchdown on 34 receptions and 468 receiving yards while being targeted 66 times by opposing quarterbacks, who had a 73.3 passer rating when throwing Nelson’s way.
As Strackbein mentioned, 2020 was a down year for Nelson in terms of his capabilities, surrendering four touchdowns on 76 targets while allowing 43 receptions for 483 yards and a passer rating of 82.3 when targeted.
Nelson began his career in Kansas City, where his bright spots were overshadowed by his mistakes more often than not but found his niche in Pittsburgh.
Nelson has experience in the slot but has strictly been an outside corner since 2018. That’s an improvement for the Eagles alone.
Philadelphia asked Darius Slay to lead a committee of slot cornerbacks in 2020, which looked to be the case in 2021 as well until the signing of Nelson.
The Eagles didn’t need a household name to come in and be the solution at cornerback because the team is putting their young yet highly thought of defensive coordinator position to mold and coach his player’s strengths.
The signing of Nelson certainly helps, though.
Bringing in his consistency helps lessen the burden of that task, at least for a season.
Now, Gannon can focus on slowly developing fourth-round rookie Zech McPhearson for an eventual role while freeing Avonte Maddox to focus on one spot on the field, with that spot being better suited for his skillset in the slot or even at safety,
Nelson will be an effective bandaid for the Eagles at a position that never seems to stop bleeding.
While the long-term situation at cornerback is murky, this year has not shaped up nicely and gives Gannon time to identify the pieces for beyond 2021.
There is no such thing as a bad one-year deal. And there certainly doesn’t appear to be a bad thing about feeling more secure at cornerback with the addition of Nelson in Philadelphia.
Conor Myles covers the Philadelphia Eagles for SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-hosts the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast on Bleav Podcast Network. Reach Conor at ConorMylesSI@gmail.com or Twitter: @ConorMylesSI
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.