As far as the salary cap is concerned, the Pittsburgh Steelers historically have been like Houdini. Just when you think there is no possible way out, they escape the jaws of cap hell. This year is no different, and this time the cap trap appears to be unescapable… or is it? The Steelers at face value are already over the cap before signing a single free agent or draft pick, but after looking at the numbers, not only does it appear that they will have money to sign their draft picks, they might even make a run at a few free agents. Its not an ideal situation, but it isn’t like they are the Dallas Cowboys.
Current 2014 Rule 51 Cap number – $135.5M
Dead money $4.5M
Estimated Team Salary Cap- $131.3M ($130M NFL + $1.3M team carryover)
Estimated Cap Room -$8.7M
Ben Roethlisberger (cap number $18.9M, dead money, $13.6M = cap savings $5.3M) – No, Ben isn’t going anywhere but his contract might be altered to take advantage of potential cap savings. However, even if they squeezed out as much 2014 savings as possible by paying a league minimum salary, adding a minimal signing bonus, and tacking on additional guaranteed money in later years, it would only add up to a modest cap savings between $1.5M and $3M. The Steelers would be better off trying this next year.
Ike Taylor (cap $11.9M, dead $4.9M = savings $7M) – Ike Taylor restructured his contract during the season in 2013 so that the Steelers would have flexibility down the stretch to make a roster move if necessary. He essentially took his salary minus the league minimum as a signing bonus to help the team. At that time, most Steelers fans were sure that he would be a lock in 2014. Unfortunately this is a business and the $7M in cap savings would almost single-handedly put Pittsburgh in the black. Of course they would still have to contend with $4.9M of dead money on top of the $4M from Willie Colon. He stays, but the Steelers grab some of that cap money back from him.
Troy Polamalu ($10.9M, $2.6M = $8.3M, last year of contract) – The Steelers should see a significant cap savings from Troy’s contract, but they would have to ask him to take a pay cut if they want to keep him. If they simply gave him the standard signing bonus of current salary due plus league minimum and signed him to a 3 year deal, his cap number in 2014 would still be $7.2M, not a great savings. He is going to be 33 years old in two months, so adding more years is a risk. Cut or pay cut? That is the question.
Heath Miller ($9.5M, $3.4M = $6.0M, last year of contract) – Heath has been the Steelers most consistent sure hands go-to guy over the past half dozen years. To make matters more expensive, recently pass-catching tight ends have made a big push to be considered wide receiver when it comes to paydays. Either way, $9.5M (or a $6M salary) is a large sum of money for a guy who has maxed out at 800 yards for a season. I would guess an extension is in store, but the 2014 savings with $3.4M already “dead” wouldn’t be more than $2M. It is better than nothing and every dollar counts for Pittsburgh in 2014.
Levi Brown ($6.3M, $0 = $6.3M) – Although the Steelers didn’t get much use out of him after acquiring Levi from the Cardinals, he can help their current cap issue. He has no guaranteed money on the remaining three years of his deal. The Steelers have many options with Levi’s contract, but he will most likely be gone ASAP.
Maurkice Pouncey ($5.3M, $1.4M = $3.9M) – Coming off a serious injury, the Steelers are confident Maurkice can return to form. $5.3 should be a good number if he does, but if the Steelers need the space, they may come knocking.
Lamar Woodley ($13.6M, $14.2M = -$600K) – The 2014 dead money looks daunting, but if the Steelers release him after June 1, the $14.2 number reduces to $5.6M (although $9M will be added to the 2015 cap number.) Add that to comments that he won’t be a Worlids backup, and the writing could be on the wall. To sum it up, the Steelers could either cut him and take all of the cap hit now, wait until June 1st, or stay the course. In my opinion they will take the post June 1 benefit for 2014 because their options are far greater in 2015 with no negitive (cap number to dead money) contracts.
Others to watch: Nine other players with $1M to $1.9M in cap space available.
Lawrence Timmons ($11.8M, $13.2M = -$1.4M) – Any restructuring here would just hurt the Steelers cap down the road.
Despite the major cap issues the Steelers face in 2014, they can actually get out of it, although they still wouldn’t have much to spend on free agents and draft picks. Cutting staples like Polamalu and Woodley would open up almost $17M in cap space giving them roughly $9M in spending money. Additional moves could get that number closer to $20M, a roster manageable number, but would limit any big signings. Keep in mind that they will need roughly $2M to sign rookies, not the nearly $5M estimated for draft picks due to rule of 51 spots opening up for those new players. If the Steelers decide to hold onto Polamalu and/or Woodley, all bets are off and they will have to work some serious magic once again.
Editors note: The cap numbers are rounded to the nearest $100K, causing the appearance of calculation errors.