“Yes, Ben. I did see the Romo contract”
Before teams can start thinking free agency during the 2nd week of March, they have to worry about cap space. Next up is the Pittsburgh Steelers and their current cap challenges. Teams are required to spend 89% of their cap between 2013 and 2016, which is why there is carryover cap space for teams who did not reach the previous year’s cap number.
Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers at face value have little room for error regarding the their cap space. They maxed out their payroll in 2014 leaving little carryover into 2015, and their current cap room is now estimated at $6.9M after making two moves already this week. Although the Steelers appear to be in the same situation as their division rivals, they have slightly more room to maneuver than the Baltimore Ravens.
Current 2015 Rule 51 Cap number $136.3M
Dead money $9.4M
Estimated Team Salary Cap $143.2M ($143M NFL + $0.2M team carryover)
Estimated Cap Room $6.9M
Movable or adjustable (there are many more, but I will just hit the most impactful):
QB Ben Roethlisberger (cap number $18.4M, dead money $6.8M = cap savings $11.6M) – Of course Ben will be extended, but the question is how it will affect his current cap number. He will most likely garner a ~$30M signing bonus and a total contract value between $110-$125M for 5 years. If that’s the case, at a minimum his 2015 cap hit will be around $9M depending on his negotiated 2015 salary, which could open up much needed cap space.
DE Cameron Heyward (cap $7.0M, dead $0.0M = savings $7.0M) – At first glance, the Steelers could open up some cap space by extending Heyward. The problem is Cameron had a very good year in 2014 and is projected to command a lucrative contract if he hits the free agent market in 2016. Its unlikely his cap number will be reduced by much. His 2015 salary is essentially ranked 6th (4-way tie) in the NFL at his position.
ILB Lawrence Timmons ($12.6M, $8.1M = $4.4M) – Timmons is entering the last two years of a back loaded contract, and is a pretty big hit against the cap. The issue arises when considering his value to the team coupled with his hefty dead money total. The Steelers will most likely rework his deal next season when his dead money burden is reduced to $3M.
SS Troy Polamalu ($8.3M, $4.5M = $3.8M) – Both the Ravens and Steelers have had to weigh tough cap decisions on Hall of Fame defenders at the end of their careers. The Steelers have reached that point with Troy. He is not worth $8.3M against the cap, but does add intangible value. That said, his $3.8M could be better spent if the team doesn’t think he can step up after a sub-par injury plagued 2014. If they cut him after June 1, they can gain $6M in space by rolling some of the hit to 2016.
Heath Miller, Steve McLendon, Cam Thomas, Ramon Foster, Bruce Gradkowski, Lance Moore, Brett Keisel, William Gay, and David DeCastro (combined to open up nearly $17M in cap space) – The Steelers will have to make some moves here to open up the bulk of their cap space. Each player listed is worth between $1.5M and $2.3M in additional money.
Immovable players or contracts (excluding 2013/14 high round draft picks):
WR Antonio Brown ($9.8M, $9.7M = 0.1M) – AB will not be going anywhere for many reasons, and the least of which is his contract situation.
C Maurkice Pouncey ($8.1M, $10.4M = -$2.3M) – Maurkice just signed an extension a year ago, and currently has the largest contract among centers. This year, his 2015 salary ranks him 3rd.
RT Marcus Gilbert ($3.3M, $10.8M = -7.5M) – The Steelers just re-renegotiated Gilbert’s contract to open up additional 2015 cap space after renegotiating his previous contract into an extension in 2014. He is obviously worth the cap hit this year, which will now double in 2016.
S Mike Mitchell ($2.5M, $7.1M = -$5.5M) – In a similar move, the Steelers free safety just renegotiated his contract to open up cap space as reflected in his minimal cap number. His hit will balloon 250% to $6.8M next season.
Lamarr Woodley ($8.6M in dead money) – The Steelers chose to designate Woodley as a post June 1st cut, moving dead money in to 2015.
The Steelers have plenty of moves at their disposal to open up cap space, which is why the first two mentioned above raise questions. It appears contract talks regarding their quarterback and defensive end are expected to take some time; and potential roster cuts may again be designated as post-June 1st, opening up more space in 2015 by pushing dead money into 2016. The Steelers are paying for that type of move this year, although they could not have made it through 2014 without it.
In AFC North cap review, The Browns and Bengals find themselves in similar cap-rich situations, while the Ravens and Steelers have eerily similar situations of their own (from lack of cap space to huge dead money hits). Regarding the AFC North’s off-season, expect no shortage of news to discuss. The first two moves the Steelers made, plus the release of Jacoby Jones by the Ravens are just the beginning. Edit: the Ravens just cut their 2nd player this week in Chris Canty.
Editors note: The cap numbers are rounded to the nearest $100K, causing the appearance of some calculation errors.