Posting consecutive non-winning seasons after a string of championships, another Super Bowl appearance and a trio of 12-4 campaigns is enough to make anyone sick to their stomach; but what makes most fans of the team want to vomit is the fact they've done so while stretching at the constraints of the NFL salary cap.
Restructures, re-signings and unexpected releases have found the team seeming to be impossibly over the cap limit as they entered each following season; with the situation annually growing worse with the team's win-loss record. This trend continues once again in 2014, a difficult pill to swallow realizing the number of changes which appear to be needed to regain the team's former level of success.
Before the team can think about affording a 7th round draft pick, they will have to get their current roster under the cap. The Steelers will enter the 2014 season with only 41 players under contract, but their team cap figure will sit at $134,979,855.
The does have options to reduce their cap figure for next year, but all will carry consequences into future seasons. Restructures are almost guaranteed for Antonio Brown, Lawrence Timmons and Ben Roethlisberger, who could also see an extension offered in the names of security and cap clearance.
The team will need to make decisions on some of its elder statesmen. Ike Taylor will be 35 next year. Troy Polamalu will be 33. Heath Miller will be 32. Each player will be entering the final year of their contracts, and will carry heavy cap hits at their positions. The team will have to consider either releasing one/all of them to save cap space equivalent to their base salaries, or offering extensions to create opportunity for restructuring.
LaMarr Woodley will be 30 years old next year. He will carry the second-highest cap hit on the roster, without having a definite spot in the defense in 2013 after the emergence of Jason Worilds. The team cannot really afford to cut ties with Woodley, but the presence of Jarvis Jones and the impending free-agency of Worilds make his contract stick out like a sore thumb.
On top of the troubles with the players already under contract, the glaring holes across the roster only make it worse. Le'Veon Bell is the only running back, unless you're counting fullback Will Johnson. Only three receivers remain. The offensive line and defensive secondary are full of bodies but remain lacking in talent and experience. The draft will only have so much to offer, and free agency becomes a gamble with the lack of play money in Pittsburgh's budget. There will be no off-time for the front office in the off-season.
The 'rebuilding' versus 'retooling' argument has been laid to rest, as by definition the team is amidst a three-year plan to reconstruct a once dominant roster. The players will be focused on winning their final three games, but the coaching staff will most likely use the live game situations to test players in question before decisions have to be made.
Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones will be working to earn invites back to training camp as backups, or they could be debuting for new jobs elsewhere like Emmanuel Sanders. Other soon-to-be free-agents will need to make statements in Worilds, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods. Players like Robert Golden and Terence Garvin will attempt to keep themselves relevant in the coaches' minds. The post-season may be all but out of reach, but these players will still have plenty to play for over the last three weeks.
Time will tell which pieces the team feels are vital to the roster's structural integrity, and which need to be scrapped and replaced. Regardless of the specific steps taken, needless to say the team will not settle for similar mediocrity.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Dolphins vs. Steelers Postgame News and Updates
- Steelers top 1,000 rushing yards after 13 games
- Let's see how Steelers coach deals with one of the lowest moments of his tenure
- I didn't know Dolphins could swim in the snow
- Mike Adams, Cameron Heyward earn top PFF marks in loss to Dolphins
- Steelers borderline miraculous play sums up some of Steelers season