PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 18: Director of football operations Kevin Colbert watches the Pittsburgh Steelers warm up prior to the game against the Seattle Seahawks on September 18, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Every year in the offseason, Steelers fans and haters alike start talking about the Steelers championship chances and how much longer they can compete for a championship. The fans say that Kevin Colbert's brilliant drafting abilities and Omar Khan's mastery of re-working the cap will keep the window open for at least a couple more year's. Haters will say that the Steelers insistance on re-structuring deals year after year after year will eventually end up costing them and putting them in Salary Cap hell for a few years. And those haters might be right eventually.
Is next year that year? I don't think so. The Steelers are currently projected to be about $10 million above the cap next year and that is before Mike Wallace's deal has been done. Next year, they will have to resign players like Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, and some other key pieces. However, Steeler's Depot has recently written about how next year's cap space issues will not be as bad as recent year's. So now, the real question would be regarding the talent on the roster for the next several year's.
After this season, the Steelers will have to make some serious decisions about James Harrison, Casey Hampton, and Willie Colon. Harrison is due a base salary next year of $6.57 million according to Spotrac and could be due even more if he reaches his incentives. The Steelers would be able to relieve a lot of the cap debt next year by releasing Harrison. However, I don't think the Steelers have the talent behind Harrison to get rid of him. So lets say the Steelers rework Harrison's deal and maybe even extend it a year or two to push some of the cap hit past the 2014 season, when the cap is expected to explode. Who, then, would they release to clear approximately $10 million in cap space?
The Steelers this year are paying base salaries of $700k, 900k, 825k, 700k, and 700k, to Willie Colon, Ben Roethlisberger, Ike Taylor, Lawrence Timmons, and LaMarr Woodley respectively. That does not take into account roster bonuses but this is just to paint a picture. Next year, those numbers jump to 5.5 million, 11.6 million, 6 million, 5.375 million, and 9 million in the same order. Just think about that for a minute. Somebody very good is going to have to be cut to make room for those numbers.
I trust that Omar Khan will again re-structure some of these deals to push most of the money back behind the 2014 cap explosion. So let's say all of these players are back, who goes then to make room to sign players like Rashard Mendenhall, Antonio Brown, Keenan Lewis, and Emmanuel Sanders? As painful as it sounds, I think one cap casualty next year could be Heath Miller. Heath is due $5.162 million next year and with a ton of TE's on this roster, that may be a spot the Steelers could clear cap. Now would getting rid of Heath Miller and replacing him with a combination of Leonard Pope, Weslye Saunders, David Johnson, and David Paulson ruin our team and close our window? While Heath is an awesome player, I don't think we would be screwed because Heath Miller got released or traded. However, getting rid of Heath would only free up about $5 million of the $10 million we would need to free. I am assuming that the other $5 million would be saved in restructures.
That dealt with the cap issues behind it. Lets say we are able to resign or tender Antonio Brown, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenahll, and Emmanuel Sanders which seems like a real possibility if we again back load the contracts for the 2014 cap explosion. That would give us a roster similar to this year's with minimal turnover. If we were able to bring back that team, I see no reason why our window would be closing. The Steelers would still have Ben at quarterback, a plethora of talented backs, a talented WR corps with or without Mike Wallace, a young and talented offensive line and that's just on the offensive side of the ball.
They would still have a defensive line featuring Brett Keisel along with youngins like Steve McLendon, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward along with one of the most talented LB groups in the league. If the young corners on this roster continue to develop like they have been and Kevin Colbert continues to draft like he has been, I see no reason why the Pittsburgh Steelers can't continue to compete for championships through the end of Big Ben's awesome career. So for all you haters out there (Warren Sapp to name one), keep on hating and us Steelers fans will continue to watch our team, led by brilliant GM Kevin Colbert and a brilliant cap guy in Omar Khan, reload every year to compete for championships.