Looking forward: Salary Cap Situation through 2017

The flames of Nashville are slowly flickering out. While a few lemmings continue to pile out of Homer's basement window, most of Steeler Nation has begun to slowly back away from the ledge. I hate to see my team lose, but losing brings out the opinions of it's fanbase far more than winning. Between the demands for terminations of coaches, players, and even fellow BTSC'ers; something became evident to me. We all share an unrivaled passion for our team. The only thing that separates us into groups, is the visibility of rationality. It is easy to point a finger at those who decide to fling lit paper bags at the doorstep of Heinz Field, but I'm slowly realizing that sometimes these "knee-jerks" are more a product of misinformation. This post is an effort to help those that fail to see anything more than what's on their televisions, when mentally deciding the fate of the future of this team's personnel.

Many of you fine Steeler fans are already well versed in our players' contract specifics. This post is for those who either are unaware of the numbers, simply new to the idea of the ramifications of complying with the salary cap, or those highly intelligent individuals that come to only BTSC for everything Steeler football. I'm not going to quote the entire collective bargaining agreement. I'm not going to get into specific clauses in individual player's contracts. (Like the clause in Ben's adamantly prohibiting him from riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or conducting himself in other, similar hazardous activities.) Instead, I simply want to paint the picture of what our team is going to look like as we go forward year-to-year, as regulated by the salary cap. When calculating a player's cap hit, two basic things are figured in: the players base salary, and any/all bonuses. Base salaries are not guaranteed, and disappear if a player is cut. Bonuses, such as signing bonuses, work-out bonuses, or Likely-To-Be-Earned incentive bonuses (bonuses paid for incentive goals, based on prior years production), are divided evenly amongst the length of the contract in years. Signing Bonuses can only be applied to the first 5 years of any deal, per the new CBA; while other bonuses can pertain to specific years, or time-frames. When a player is released with years remaining on a contract, the amount of the bonus money that would have been figured against the cap incrementally across each year on the deal, will be collectively held against the year following the player's release. (The CBA does allow for some dead bonuses to be split amongst 2 years, but we're not talking those details for this estimate)

Granted, the CBA is more complicated than that, but considering things change from year to year, this exercise will limit itself to these terms, ruling out unforeseeable moves like trades, releases, or restructures. The following chart can be read as follows. AGE: this is the players age at the end of this season. 201X: the number notated represents the player's total cap hit for that season (salary + bonuses) DEAD MONEY: this number represents the amount in bonuses that would become cap penalties, upon the release of a player. These totals are yearly totals, meaning you must multiply that number by the number of years remaining on a released players contract. Example: A player's contract expires at the end of the 2015 season. He is released mid-season in 2012. His Dead Money amount is $200,000. He becomes $600,000 in dead money against 2013's cap ($200,000 x 3 years. The share of his bonuses designated for 2012 were already calculated in at the beginning of the season) Below the chart, is a list of the players counting as dead money against this year's cap. These things must be kept in mind when calling for a player's head, because sometimes it is not as simple as "cut the bum"; especially considering our proximity to the cap limit each year. Sometimes, we simply can't afford to cut them. Also, in some players' Dead Money totals you will find a year in parentheses. Based on various circumstances, the amount of bonus money counting towards the cap changes. The parenthetical year is the first year a new number takes effect, and the number after the year is the new amount for subsequent years. RFA's technically are not under contract until they sign their tender, if they are offered one. Because there are different levels of RFA tenders, I will consider them "not on the roster", even though they are likely to be retained due to their affordability; some may even be offered actual contracts.

At the bottom of each year's amounts, I will include the amount of "cap space" already accounted for through existing contracts, and the number of players under contract for that year, keeping in mind the 53 man target. The actual salary cap can change from year to year, so it is difficult to project just how close, or over, the limit we are. This exercise is more to give you an idea of where we stand; and of the geniuses working in our Front Office, as they juggle these numbers every single year, allowing us to field the best possible team we can afford. In years past, I relied on another blog for salary cap information; but they only covered the current year, and wildly speculated towards the following season. However, as Neal Coolong would tell you, their information is often inaccurate, as I found out while researching this piece. I instead gathered my numbers through two, more reputable sources: Rotoworld and Spotrac. Each of these also had slight discrepancies, but their numbers matched, therefore allowing me to believe their information to be accurate. (Spotrac had Mike Wallace listed as a RFA next year, which should have been an UFA. Rotoworld was missing a few players info, and simply provided total bonus amounts) This information is available through various site across the web, but usually they discuss cap-sequences on a per-player basis; never team-per-year.

This is a large chart. I created the spreadsheet with OpenOffice, but had to convert it to an image file in order to post. As a result, some of the numbers are difficult to read. However, in most of these cases, they pertain to a player not likely to be released, therefore things like dead money will likely never be an issue. If a player restructures a deal, these numbers could change, as could their cap hits year-to-year. If anyone would like a copy for personal reference of the actual OO file, or would like a PDF copy, feel free to send a request to the email listed on my profile page; or snatch a copy of the image from my photobucket.



(I apologize for the blurry image. Clicking on the image will show you a much more readable, zoom-able copy.)

We had 38 cut players affecting this season's cap, to a total tune of $9,794,666 through dead money, as a result of releases. Notable names: Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, James Farrior, Trai Essex, Chris Kemoeatu, Jon Scott, Arnaz Battle, Antwaan Randle El, Bryant McFadden, Weslye Saunders, etc...

Now that we've got the pesky, factual part of the post out of the way, let's speculate:

2013: Considering the salary cap this year was just a shade over 120 million, and is expected to be near the same in 2013; we are already behind the 8-ball. Ben Roethlisberger is the first person that comes to mind, when the word restructure rears it's head. His inflated cap figure for next season is a product of the restructure he worked out prior to this season. Because our cap problems dissipate as more of our aging vets hang up their cleats, I wouldn't be surprised to see an extension included in the next re-work. Adding years would be the best way to spread his bonus money out, quickly granting possibly enough space to be under the cap immediately. Unfortunately, we have a lot of empty seats to fill. Even if all the RFA's are tendered contracts, we are still 13 players shy of a 53 man roster. Other players I see being up for restructures are Ziggy Hood (if the FO wants to keep him around), Heath Miller (which would also likely include an extension), and Willie Colon (who considering his noticeable absence the last few years, deserves a re-work; or should I say the Steelers deserve to re-work Colon's deal. Again, an extension is a likely possibility to give bonus money some breathing room). LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons could possibly restructure their deals as well, pushing some of their respective cap hits into future years, which will be full of cheaper, younger player contracts. The 2 players that concern me the most are Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu. Troy may not want to play past the end of his deal, though his deal may be restructured with an extension, allowing the Steelers to eat part of his Salary the year after he decides to retire, which I think could still be after the 2014 season. Ike, considering his level of play this year, is a salary cap sponge. His on-field product does not match the price tag, so far. Cutting him after this season would provide around 13 million in cap space; though I'm sure the FO cringes at the thought of paying someone 7 mil to stay off the field. They may not have a choice. If this happens, I would expect to see Keenan Lewis retained.

Expected Departures: Charlie Batch, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, Will Allen

Estimated Departures: Ike Taylor, Brandon Johnson, Leonard Pope

On the Bubble: Max Starks, Byron Leftwich, Ryan Mundy

2014: As the years roll by, our salary cap problems will begin to correct themselves. It is difficult to speculate on specific movements, but my best guess says:

Expected Departures: Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, Isaac Redman

On the Bubble: Jason Worilds, Jerricho Cotchery, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Ziggy Hood (if not re-worked in 2013)

2015: Expected Departures: James Harrison (if not released in 2014), Troy Polamalu, Shaun Suisham

I wouldn't put a ton of stock in my speculations, as there is a lot of football to be played before these decisions need to be made. My projections are based on best-case-scenario. The Steelers' FO has a knack for making me look like an idiot; but so do I, so....

Got a better plan through the future? Lay it on me. Based on the soon-to-be openings, which positions do you see being drafted this year? The year after? The year after that? Hopefully, this helps some; others, sparks some conversation as we wait to stomp some mudholes in some Bengholes. It may seem to be a bit early to be considering off-season acitivity, and this post in no way equates a personal belief that I have given up on this season. I think we're a lot better than even our own fans give us credit for; and expect to make the playoffs this year.

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