Steelers GM Kevin Colbert sees variety of options aimed to trim salary cap

Jared Wickerham

Colbert is an experienced and skilled general manager. Of all the weapons he must use to successfully navigate a critical offseason, none will be more important than his discretion and instinct.

The savvy general manager operates with Batman's utility belt firmly clasped around his waist.

Where does he get those wonderful toys?

From experience, from common sense, from the long-odds gambler and from the cautious CEO figure that rests inside all of them; very much like Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. His weapons are tactics in which he can reduce the number of total dollars counted against the league's salary cap. And there is a nice variety of options from which he can choose.

There's restructuring contracts - generally defined as taking roster money due to a player in future years, convert it into a signing bonus, which is paid immediately to a player. Those dollars can be accounted for incrementally over the remaining course of the deal, thus lowering the cap charge in the current year, and pushing it out in future years.

There's signing a player to an extension. A player who has long-term value with the club can have a few more years added to his deal, giving him a higher net amount of dollars guaranteed.

There's simply releasing a player, which brings with it an immediate cap hit to account for the signing bonus deferred in the past. The money stays on the cap while the player is off the roster - referred to as "dead money."

There's offering a player less to stay on the team. Basically tear up the previous contract and sign a new one, typically for less money but ensuring that player a spot on the roster that season.

Colbert spoke to the media Wednesday, and it's clear, to some degree, all of these options will be at least considered, if not enacted. The utility belt will be used often this offseason, with extensions likely being considered for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and safety Troy Polamalu. Reductions could be considered and offered to cornerback Ike Taylor and OLB LaMarr Woodley.

Inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and Antonio Brown are younger players who clearly have established themselves as core players. Restructures or even extensions aren't out of the question, should the team need to dig deep to find cap space.

Colbert's job is that of full utilization; the application of all these tactics for justified reasons is both the art and the science of his (and his staff's) job. The real skill comes in knowing, as The Gambler says, "when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."

He has a great poker face, to be sure. Speaking to the media Wednesday, Colbert said "We think everything will be manageable."

Bluff or genuine? The opinions of many to the answer of that question will rest largely on whether they feel Colbert truly did expect what he has in front of him. An aging cornerback making by far the most on the team at his position but without a known commodity in place to continue with a three-deep personnel chart. A highly-paid but often injured player at a key defensive position who isn't old but can't be counted on to play 16 games at a high level.

A quarterback who's just entering the later portion of his career and takes up an exorbitant amount of cap space. They can't get rid of Ben Roethlisberger, and re-signing him to a long-term deal seems like foregone conclusion. With that, though, likely come demands. Hints at possible draft directions emerge here and there, maybe those demands are aimed at getting the highest paid player to take a little less for the sake of helping build a team around him.

Batman has many things to combat this offseason. He did a great job Wednesday of downplaying those tasks but still speaking about them with a sense of urgency. This must be done from year to year, and the results come storming back quickly if they appear to be the wrong ones.

The good news is Batman appears prepared for what could be one of the most pivotal offseasons in his 14-year tenure. Heinz Field won't implode from an underground explosion, but failure to navigate these rocky waters successfully would result in a roster ill-equipped to keep up with the ever-changing talent landscape of the NFL.

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