The NFL announced Sunday that the Salary Cap for the 2012 season is $120.6 million, up just $225,000 from last season. All 32 teams must be under that mark by 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, which is the beginning of the unrestricted free agency period.
Several veteran releases by the Steelers and contract restructures for multiple players have gotten them to a relatively thin cushion under the cap - considering that tender offers to their restricted free agents still need to be accounted for, as well as the signing of their draft class.
A total of about $9 million looks to go to Pittsburgh's restricted free agents - most notably, WR Mike Wallace. He will receive the highest RFA tender, and barring a long-term contract extension, Wallace's cap number will be $2.742 million. OGs Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster, FS Ryan Mundy, TE David Johnson and CB Keenan Lewis all will receive original round tenders, meaning, if another team were to sign any of those players to an offer sheet, and the Steelers elect not to match it, the Steelers would receive the team's selection in the round that player was drafted originally. The restricted free agency period begins March 17.
Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider estimates the Steelers will spend another $4.45 million on its draft class.
Squirrel away a few more bucks for in-season replacement signings, the Steelers will have to take an "aim small, miss small" approach in free agency. It's not impossible to re-sign WR Jerricho Cotchery, and with the possible departure of Wallace, it actually seems likely. If Wallace was to be signed somewhere else, and assuming the Steelers won't make any immediate moves on unrestricted free agents, they would have the $2.742 million slotted for Wallace available. Not all of that would go toward Cotchery, but he clearly would become a priority. If Wallace leaves, the Steelers would have two wide receivers on their roster - Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
A better option, though, would be to lower Wallace's cap number by signing him to a long-term deal. Spacing guaranteed money out beyond this season and into a four or five year contract could give them the savings needed to keep Cotchery as well as even pursue an affordable nose tackle or offensive guard - two positions needing depth in 2012.
Veteran OT Jonathan Scott and LB Larry Foote would likely be the next up in terms of contracts to renegotiate should the Steelers find themselves in dire straits, but with four days between unrestricted free agency and the start of the restricted free agency period, Pittsburgh can see how the wide receiver market - which includes big names such as Vincent Jackson, Brandon Lloyd and Marques Colston - fairs around the league.