Philadelphia Eagles: Just sign Steven Nelson, it’s not that hard

(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

In the modern-day NFL, if you don’t have two starting-caliber outside cornerbacks, you might as well have no starting outside cornerbacks.

Need proof? Look no further than the Philadelphia Eagles‘ Week 16 bout against the Dallas Cowboys in 2020, where Dak Prescott targeted UDFA rookie cornerback Michael Jacquet play after play after play on the way to a 377 yard and three touchdown performance.

While having a player like Darius Slay can certainly help to ease that bleeding, especially if he’s moved around the field to try to neutralize an opposing team’s top receiving option, he can only cover one player on any given play, and thus can be avoided if need be.

So, even if the Eagles are looking at 2021 as a year to cultivate young talent without the pressure to win it all right away, that doesn’t mean they should be confident with their current crop of unproven CB2 candidates. Fortunately, there’s a veteran corner still unsigned on the open market who would look so darn good in a midnight green uniform by the name of Steven Nelson.

The Philadelphia Eagles have reportedly already shown interest in Nelson, so I ask, why not just… ya know, sign him already?

The Philadelphia Eagles need Steven Nelson in the worst way.

More from Section 215

Steven Nelson is 28 years old.

He’s played in 89 games over six seasons at the NFL level and has the rare distinction of having made the playoffs in all but one of his professional seasons.

Whether deployed on the outside or in the slot, Nelson has been a solid, steady performer since going to the Kansas City Cheifs 98th overall out of Oregon State in 2015.

For a team like the Philadelphia Eagles, who haven’t had two steady cornerbacks since 2017, Nelson’s calming presence could be just what the doctor ordered to reach the bare minimum of defensive competency heading into the 2021 NFL season.

Now granted, is that a tad counterintuitive? Playing a 28-year-old over a young prospect? Sure, if the Eagles had a collection of quality young cornerbacks competing for the spot across from Darius Slay, landing a cornerback who has started 68 of his last 70 games may be a luxury not quite worth pursuing.

Unfortunately, the Eagles do not have that luxury.

We already know players like Keyvon Seymour, Michael Jacquet, and Craig James aren’t the answer. All three started games for the Eagles over the last two seasons, and needless to say, it seldom went well. That just leaves Avonte Maddox, who proved last season he’s more of a slot guy than an outside option, and 2021 fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson.

Could McPhearson come in and light things up right from the jump? Most definitely. Plenty of Day 3 picks have become long-term starters at the NFL level, from Josh Norman to Alterraun Verner, but is it really right to throw him directly into the fire right away?

That, I feel, would be a mistake.

Cornerback is a funny position. Too often have we seen young, promising cornerbacks suffer a few brutal outings earlier in their career only to have their confidence shot and their career trajectory significantly altered as a result. It happened with DeAndre Baker as a rookie in 2019, as well as Gareon Conley in 2017, as well as scores of other young CBs thrust into action before they were ready.

While McPhearson showed promise during his tenure at Texas Tech, he was drafted in the fourth round for a reason and probably won’t be able to play like vintage Patrick Peterson right out the gate.

Fun fact: Since 2015, there have been more undrafted free agents who made the pro bowl at cornerback (three) than players drafted on Day 3 (one).

With a player like Nelson in place, McPhearson wouldn’t have to be rushed to the field and could instead learn from a player with a very similar player profile. If he beats out Nelson for a job on the outside, great. The Eagles have a solid number two option who earned his spot opposite Slay, but if not, McPhearson will still be on the team, compete at practice every single day, and further hone his craft for when an opportunity to play eventually crops up due to injury or bad play.

For what it’s worth, Nelson could also serve as a viable challenger for Maddox in the slot if things don’t work out on the outside, which isn’t a guarantee. Nelson is bigger than Maddox, similarly speedy, and has the inside-out versatility to move around the lineup if Jonathan Gannon decides to have Slay shadow opposing number one receivers regardless of where they line up.

Next. Rodney McLeod says he is “here to stay”. dark

Throw that all together, and you have an incredibly valuable short-term utility player who could wear a lot of hats for the Philadelphia Eagles while simultaneously allowing the team to better evaluate the players around him due to an improved general level of cornerback competency. So, if you really think about it, it’s not really why should Howie Roseman sign Steven Nelson, but why hasn’t he done so already?