Play Money: Exploring Steelers ILBs and NFL salary cap

Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The absence of veteran Larry Foote forced Vince Williams into the spotlight in 2013, exposing his rookie inexperience. With a year under Williams belt, the returns of Foote and Spence should lead to an improved unit in 2014.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not been as dominant defending the run in 2013 as they have in years past, and some of the fault eventually falls on the shoulders of sixth-round draft pick Vince Williams, who was forced into action when veteran Larry Foote landed on IR after Week 1.

Rookies rarely excel in the Steelers defense, and the performances of Williams and fellow-rookie Jarvis Jones only furthered the trend. While the defense was not up to par in 2013, there could be significant improvement in 2014 as young players continue to accumulate valuable experience - especially with Foote expected to return to the starting job alongside Lawrence Timmons.

The team will also be getting Sean Spence back after missing his first two seasons recovering from torn knee ligaments during the preseason of his rookie year, 2012. He almost made his comeback in 2013, but a broken hand derailed his progress forcing the team to shut him down, placing him on IR for the second consecutive year. The team was impressed with his play up until the point he suffered his knee injury initially, and he is expected to be a solid contributor if he can remain healthy.

Real Money

The Steelers really don't have the ability to go fishing in free agent waters, outside of possibly adding another young player through the draft.

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Foote was re-signed to a very digestible deal for a veteran starter prior to the 2013 season. Because of the youth of the rest of the depth chart in Spence, Williams and Terence Garvin, the only contract with any room to create cap clearance is Timmons'.

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Because the team still doesn't know what exactly they have in Williams and Spence, but is completely confident in the abilities of Timmons and Foote; it is unlikely the team will feel a need to make any drastic personnel moves in this department.

The Steelers have even been confident enough in Garvin, who has become a special-teams specialist, to play him in Nickel situations as of late. It would not be a complete surprise to see Garvin survive final cuts once again in 2014, unless of course the team grabs a serious playmaker in the draft and need the roster spot.

Play Money

The only real action we should expect to see is a possible restructure of Timmons' contract. The team only stands to save around $3.8 million against 2014's cap while adding $1.9 million in dead money to each year remaining on his contract, by restructuring $5.7 million of his base salary in 2014.

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The net savings and consequent future damages of restructuring aren't nearly as severe as some of his teammates, but the restructure of Timmons' contract goes a long way when attempting to offer new deals to players like Jason Worilds, Ziggy Hood and others.

Timmons has never been a durability concern, and is one of the few defensive veterans still in the prime of his career. Adding more dead money to future years of his contract becomes more tolerable like the restructuring of Ben Roethlisberger's contract, because the men are expected to be here and are playing for discounted rates compared to some of their peers throughout the league.

It would not be surprising to see Timmons receive an extension in 2015 or 2016, not only for cap purposes in the present and near future, but to lock him up throughout what should be the best years of his career.

Bottomline

The word 'release' won't even be mentioned in this group's discussion unless the team is able to find a significant upgrade in the draft over one of the young reserves currently on the roster. The team did not play well enough in Foote's absence to believe they can part ways with him just yet. Keeping Foote around for at least one more year will give Williams time to grow similar to the schedule we put J. Jones on by not restructuring Woodley's contract in these exercises.

The Steelers are struggling to stay under the cap, and have more pressing holes which need whatever attention they can afford. The team needs to exercise some patience and continue to develop the young bucks (and macks) already under contract.

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