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Pittsburgh Steelers Salary Cap Analysis: Top 10 'Bang For The Buck' in 2008 Part 1

This is always one of my favorite posts to write each year. It's just fun and opens up good debate. Part 1 is an introduction to some of the raw data, as well as my thoughts on who the best value on the team was. Part 2 will compare the statistical outputs of these high Return on Investment players with others around the league. And Part 3 will look at who didn't live up to their contract in 2008, and what implications that might have for the decision making process of the front office this offseason.

Hope you enjoy (I sure hope so, cause this one takes awhile to put together, not to mention exposes me to lots of criticism!) and as always, let me know what your thoughts are on the subject - Blitz-

UPDATE - I have noticed that many folks have been googling 'Steelers salary' today, which is good timing I suppose. I hate to do such shameless promotion here on BTSC, but take the 30 seconds to register for a free account and ask any questions you may have if you feel so inclined to jump in the discussion and get some specific questions answered from the numerous Steelers fans out there likely to be reading this. Cheers.

Disclaimer to start - as is always the case with NFL salary data, there are likely discrepancies with some of these numbers. We're not trying to run a spreadsheet and keep the team under the cap here though. Just get a general feel for which Steelers players provided far greater output on the field compared to the amount of financial resources that were allocated to them by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2008.


2008 NFL Salary Cap: ~ $116,729,000.

Pittsburgh Steelers Total Payroll: $ 128,815,061 - includes bonuses that aren't part of what's considered salary. These performance bonuses are why things get so convoluted and tricky to pinpoint to the last red cent. 

Pittsburgh Steelers Median Salary: $ 1,001,920




List of Steelers contributors with cap hits under $1 million median in 2008:

  • Tyrone Carter ($ 845,253)
  • Willie Colon ($ 546,220)
  • Carey Davis ($ 375,760)
  • Nick Eason ($ 667,300)
  • Keyaron Fox ($ 489,800)
  • William Gay ($ 410,266)
  • Bryant McFadden ($ 793,110)
  • Gary Russell ($ 282,941)
  • Matt Spaeth ($ 564,303)
  • Darnell Stapleton ($ 378,906)
  • LaMarr Woodley ($ 724,800)
  • Trai Essex ($ 932,280)
  • Byron Leftwich ($ 485,000)
  • Anthony Madison ($ 450,760)
  • Sean McHugh ($ 445,000)
  • Orpheus Roye ($ 485,000)
  • Anthony Smith ($ 622,674)
  • Limas Sweed ($ 678,333)
  • Travis Kirschke ($ 983,360)
  • Andre Frazier ($ 565,28)
  • Mitch Berger ($ 485,000)



List of Steelers contributors with cap hits less than 2x $1 million median salary:

  • James Harrison ($ 1,550,470)
  • Justin Hartwig ($ 1,493,260)
  • Chris Hoke ($ 1,481,240)
  • Santonio Holmes ($ 1,741,92)
  • Chris Kemoeatu ($ 1,423,240)
  • Heath Miller ($1,725,760)
  • Mewelde Moore ($ 1,105,760)
  • Jeff Reed ( $ 1,963,613)
  • Lawrence Timmons ($ 1,754,51)
  • DeShea Townsend ($ 1,976,82)
  • Nate Washington ($ 1,419,88)
  • Charlie Batch ($ 1,628,38)


Ok, time to rank these guys. I'm not going to sit and think about this incessantly so please jump in and tell me where you may agree or disagree. Starting with the honorary mentions - a job well done and plenty of Return On Investment - but not quite worthy of the top 10.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Ty Carter - stability in the secondary at under 900k per year. He's been great value for a few years now, even if he isnt quite starting material, as we saw down the stretch last year. 
  • Chris Hoke/Travis Kirschke - not dirt cheap commodities, particularly Hoke. But these two provided depth all year, and also filled in tremendously when Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel went down with injuries earlier in the year. A tip of the cap to these grinders who put their pants on one leg at a time each day and just go to work :)
  • Jeff Reed- again, not dirt cheap by any stretch. BUT, considering there were 8 NFL kickers who had a bigger hit against their team's cap than did Reed, I have to include him. Reed's a top ten kicker in NFL history, not a top ten kicker in 2008. Pretty simple logic for me.
  •  Byron Leftwich - Sure, he only appeared in a few meaningful games, but he single handedly turned that Redskins game in our favor, and that W came at an awfully crucial point of the year for us. A Steelers sized salute to Lefty as he likely leaves town to compete for a starting gig.
  • Santonio Holmes - I can't justify putting Holmes in the top ten simply because of the expectations that come along with being such a high draft pick entering year #3. Holmes of course was brilliant at times and is most definitely one of our most prized assets. And he's fairly cheap for now. Gobs of WRs make more money than him, and though I need to examine this closer, I believe Holme's base salary is low and much of his scratch is paid in the form of bizarre bonuses that we'll try to make better sense of this offseason. Keep it up 'Tone!

And now the...

Top Ten 'Bangs For the Buck' in 2008

10) Willie Colon - say what you want about the guy - most of it's grounded in reality - but the bottom line is teams don't usually get 19 starts at a Tackle position in this league without injury for under 500k. I think the team will look to invest more in protecting their ultimate investment - Ben Roethlisberger - but bottom line is we survived this year. Take a look at Trai Essex for example. Not really much better than Colon and twice as expensive. Or how about Max Starks, who made close to $7 million in 08. That's nearly 14x as much as Colon. That's pretty good value. 

Before you immediately race off to comment, realize this - the Rooneys are businessmen. They make sound economic decisions in every last move they make. Do you think that they feel Willie Colon is capable of being a bonafide long term solution? I doubt it, at least not at tackle. HOWEVER, you have to consider that keeping Colon on board for just a few pennies basically was a strategic move considering A) how the Max Starks negotiations went down...B) Ben's mega extension...C) Hines Ward's huge cap hit in 2008.

You have to trim fat somewhere and we were able to do that with one of our starting Tackles, who just so happened to start every game. Realize also that Colon's play - not as good as Starks' thats for sure, but not THAT much worse - also gives the team some bargaining power in this offseason when they decide what to do. It will be hard for Starks' agent to press for huge bucks when he didn't outclass Colon by that much. Either Starks comes down to somewhere closer to Colon's pay scale or he walks. Or, Colon commands more on the market than we'd pay and we get a compensatory pick and go back to the drawing board looking for talent in FA and the draft, all the while praying that Tony Hills materializes in the immediate short term.

9) Keyaron Fox - when you help anchor a special teams unit that went from atrocious in 2007 to very respectable in 2008 in his first year in town, Fox has to be considered one of the better values found by any team in free agency this year. Well done Coach Tomlin, Mr. Colbert and the Rooneys. And good job Keyaron. I hope you're back next year and I hope the front office is willing to bump that salary up closer to the $1 million range.

8) William Gay - the 2nd year CB and ST stalwart out of Louisville played in all but a handful of games in both Dick LeBeau's defense and regularly on special teams. He had an INT, 7 passes deflected, 26 tackles and definitely proved his staying power in this organization for the future. At under 500k a year, he's been tremendous early on in his career. He's definitely also been an underappreciated gem of the Steelers generally amazing 2007 draft class.

7) Justin Hartwig - Hartwig's cap hit was just about the same as Sean Mahan's last year. Do I need to say more? Really though, thinking back on the trade of Mahan, I CAN NOT believe that Tampa Bay would give up anything to have gotten him. Had we been forced to cut Mahan, we would have been in a much dicier situation cap wise in 2008 and 2009. We were still on the hook for quite a bit of dough in the form of a prorated signing bonus cap allocation for Mahan. By trading him, we got let off the hook. Whew. Good job Justin playing at least fairly consistent football in the middle of our line all year.

6) Mewelde Moore - Moore debatably belongs higher on this list. He had over 900 combined rushing + receiving yards, 6 TDs, played in all 16 games, and spelled FWP as the starting back for a number of crucial games early on in the season - most notably the Jacksonville and Cincinnati games. Another steal and bang up job by Tomlin finding cheap reliable team first talent.

5) Gary Russell - Considering he earned about the same money as guys like Jon Dekker, Scott Paxson, and Donovan Woods, it's easy to understand why Russell belongs here. He returned kicks, albeit only decently, he ran the ball along the goal line, he played on the coverage units, and oh yeah, he made less than 300k per year.

4) Bryant McFadden - lock down corners don't usually cost under 800k per year. Had McFadden stayed on the field for more games than he did, I would probably put him even higher. We shall see what happens in the offseason, but given the Steelers history of only doing extensions the year before contracts expire, I think we likely know that B-Mac has played his last down of football in the Steel City. If so, good luck and thanks for being an integral part of an elite pass defense the past two years!

3) Darnell Stapleton - This is not to say that Stape was the 4th best player on the team. No, no. Just a tremendous ROI from him considering where he came from, an undrafted rookie free agent two years ago from 'powerhouse' Rutgers. Stapleton went from being on the fringes of the practice squad or being cut to being a very important starter for the Steelers after Kendall Simmons went down against Baltimore early on. Stapleton had his ups and downs, but remember - he was inserted into the lineup soon after the Philly debacle and the offense had some very respectable showings in pass protection and running the football in the immediate weeks following. Stapleton struggled some down the stretch but there's no doubt in my mind that he will be able to compete for a starting job on a Super Bowl caliber team in the future. And for now, with him earning just a pittance, it's a no brainer to keep him around and available for whatever may materialize in 2009. KUDOS DARNELL!

2) LaMarr Woodley - Enjoy the value while it lasts Steelers fans and Steelers ownership. It ain't lasting too long. Woodley's got a chance to be one of the great LBs in Pittsburgh history, but he won't come cheap. He's a good kid from all accounts though so I wouldn't be shocked to see him take a smallish sized pay cut in order to hang around a winning organization like Pittsburgh. We'll see. An amazing breakout year for Wood in his second professional season.

1) James Deebo Silverback I'll Pierce A Hole Through Your Soul With My Glare Harrison - Defensive Player of the Year; Steelers record for sacks in a season; longest play in SB history, a game changing dagger to the Cardinals just before the half. 'Nuff said.