Cowboys should target free agent CB Steven Nelson

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Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson (22) wears an "End Racism" decal on his helmet prior to an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Emilee Chinn)

By Russell Jakubowski

Even after the free agency and the draft, the Dallas Cowboys still have a glaring need. This roster lacks a true high-pedigree veteran cornerback. Former Kansas City Chief and Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Steven Nelson can provide both plug-and-play ability and leadership to such a young core. Nelson has plenty of experience in the schemes Dan Quinn is preparing to run in Dallas this year. 

Defensive Scheme:

Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn and Defensive Passing Game Coordinator Joe Whitt Jr. bring two defensive scheme philosophies from their time together in Atlanta. Single-high cover-3 is the bread-and-butter of this scheme. Nickel packages are going to be occurring more often than any other package in this scheme. In 2019 (Dan Quinn’s last full year in Atlanta), the Falcons ran the sixth most nickel packages in the league. Also, Joe Whitt’s 2019 Cleveland Browns ran the most nickel packages in the league. Steven Nelson’s time in Pittsburgh crafted him into a disciple of cover-3 single high and nickel packages. The Steelers’ favorite package was Joe Haden and Steven Nelson as the outside corners and Minkah Fitzpatrick as the single-high. He thrived in that boundary role, and he posted Pro-Bowl numbers in 2019. The Steelers ran a lot of nickel this past season, and Steven Nelson locked down the right side of the field on those snaps. Nelson can step in and start for Dan Quinn’s defense.

Play example: 

The Steelers are playing cover-3 zone in this play, which will be a staple for the Cowboys this year. He drops into his deep third and keeps Cole Beasley in front of him. This allows him to generate momentum and attack the receiver downhill. Beasley fails to catch the ball, and Nelson is in position to secure the timely pick. 


Veteran Mentorship

The longest-tenured defensive back on the roster is former Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback C.J. Goodwin. Goodwin signed with the Steelers after going undrafted in 2014. Nelson, another former Steeler, was selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Steven Nelson would not be on the roster bubble if he signed in Dallas; however, C.J. Goodwin will be cut more likely than not. Nelson would be good for the second longest-tenured cornerback on the roster if he signed today. Nelson can provide veteran mentorship for the team’s two young blue-chip cornerbacks, Trevon Diggs and Kelvin Joseph. Kelvin Joseph especially will require the former starting cornerbacks presence. Joseph has only participated in 15 collegiate career games; that’s not even an entire NFL season’s worth of games. The Cowboys currently have Joseph tapped as a starting outside corner this season. Joseph needs more time to sit, and Nelson grants the ability to be an immediate stop-gap there. His presence allows Dan Quinn and company to ease Joseph into a starting role gradually. 


Final details:

Steven Nelson is currently ranked as the third-best remaining free-agent from The Cowboys should pounce on Nelson sooner rather than later. Once training camp starts, all 32 teams tend to look at available veteran playmakers. The Cowboys currently sit at $8,948,979 in available salary cap. I would expect a one-year deal worth about four-five million for Steven Nelson. His knowledge of the defensive scheme, play style, mentorship skills, and affordability make him a perfect fit for the Dallas Cowboys.