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Pittsburgh Steelers Salary Cap Analysis: Top 10 'Bang For The Buck' in 2009

This is always one of my favorite posts to write each year. It's just fun and opens up good debate. I think it is also a nice place to start, as we get ready to talk about what the Steelers may or may not do in 2010 Free Agency. 

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.

It's also worth noting upfront that I only considered players that had a salary cap hit of under $2 million in 2009.


2009 NFL Salary Cap:  ~$127 million

Pittsburgh Steelers Total Payroll:  ~$122,558,333 

Pittsburgh Steelers Median Salary: ~$800,000



List of Steelers contributors with cap hits under $1 million median in 2009:



  • Patrick Bailey ($392,280)
  • Charlie Batch ($510,000)
  • Joe Burnett ($348,875)
  • Jason Capizzi ($317,280)
  • Tyrone Carter ($843,014)
  • Carey Davis ($378,824)
  • Dennis Dixon ($435,613)
  • Nick Eason ($474,188)
  • Trai Essex ($876,240)
  • Ramon Foster ($312,666)
  • Keyaron Fox ($810,000)
  • Andre Frazier ($688,740)
  • William Gay ($501,708)
  • Tyler Grisham ($310,500
  • Ra'shon Harris ($218,823)
  • Tony Hills ($493,780)
  • David Johson ($321,066)
  • Doug Legursky ($317,280)
  • Keenan Lewis ($470,000)
  • Stefan Logan ($314,680)
  • Shaun McDonald ($460,000)
  • Sean McHugh ($756,240)
  • Ryan Mundy ($317,280)
  • Scott Paxson ($392,280)
  • Keiwan Ratliff ($460,000)
  • Daniel Sepulveda ($582,280)
  • Matt Spaeth ($654,304)
  • Darnell Stapleton ($468,908)
  • Frank Summers ($348,416)
  • Limas Sweed ($775,613)
  • Kraig Urbik ($507,666)
  • Mike Wallace ($495,166)
  • Greg Warren ($788,946)
  • LaMarr Woodley ($816,240)



List of Steelers contributors with cap hits less than $2 million (roughly 2.5x the median salary:

  • Chris Hoke ($1,681,240)
  • Santonio Holmes ($1,845,200)
  • Ziggy Hood ($1,118,535)
  • Travis Kirschke ($1,305,200)
  • Rashard Mendenhall ($1,493,740)
  • Mewelde Moore ($1,931,240)
  • Jeff Reed ($1,979,574)



  1. First of all, successful teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers rely on getting huge returns on their investment with their draft picks. Unless you are a high 1st round pick, your rookie contract simply isn't going to be that huge. So when players like Santonio Holmes and LaMarr Woodley get in to the later years of their rookie contracts, the hope is that they've already proven themselves to be "big time" players and contributors for the team while they're not yet cashing huge paychecks. 
  2. Take a look back at my 'Bang For The Buck' post from last year. The thing that really stands out to me is the difference in players I put in 'Tier 1' between this year and last. There were 21 players who earned less than $1 million last year. In 2009, that number grew to 34 players. I hypothesized not too long ago that the Steelers were forced to rely on younger, cheaper players more heavily this year, in order to free up cap space to pay the team's top earners (Big Ben, Troy, Snack, et al). 
  3. Even though the salary cap rose in 2009, the Steelers median salary decreased for the reason I just mentioned - there were more inexpensive, young players on the roster this year.
  4. Conversely, there were fewer players in 2009 that made between $1-2 million than there were in 2008. This year, there were 7 such players, and all but one (Ziggy Hood) played huge roles for this team. In 2008, there were 12 players in that pay bracket, and as a number of their salaries escalated in 2009, even more additional money needed to be freed up. This also, I believe, explains some of the personnel decisions that were made last spring and summer. 

Okay, 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


  • Mewelde Moore - Moore might reasonably be coined 'Mr. Value' for all that he does for the Steelers, but his salary rose from $1.1 million in '08 to nearly $2 million this past year. His numbers also plunged this year across the board - rushing yards, yards per rush, receptions, etc. That's partly though because his playing time diminished as a result of Mendenhall establishing himself nicely and staying relatively injury free all year.
  • David Johnson - Most years, a 7th rounder like Johnson would have an awful tough time making the Steelers roster. He did though this year and did okay for himself - particularly in the beginning of the year. Johnson caught a few passes and held his own blocking in both the passing and running game, but I thought his performance tapered off down the stretch. Perhaps another year in the Steelers strength and conditioning program will better prepare him for the rigors of a full 16 game NFL schedule. For the price though, not to mention where he was drafted, Johnson earned his keep in 2009.
  • William Gay - I wrote all last summer that I was extremely concerned about the transition from Bryan McFadden to William Gay. As I studied the salary cap situation more carefully, I understood more clearly why the team had to make that decision. Money. For the price, it was worth rolling the dice with Gay and thrusting him into a prominent role on the defense in his third year. Obviously, Gay had his struggles in 2009, but he wasn't exactly playing with the league's best safeties. He also made numerous solid plays against the run and the pass. The Steelers must decide if they want to see how he'll progress next year at the CB position, or if he might be better utilized at FS. He seems to be better moving forward and struggles when forced to move backwards. I was hard on Gay all year, but all things considered, he was still a valuable commodity for the Steelers this year considering his modest price tag of $500k.

And now the...

Top Ten 'Bangs For the Buck' in 2008

10) Jeff Reed - It's hard for me to give him a spot on this list considering he uncharacteristically cost the Steelers a precious win against the Bears in Week 2 with two flubbed FGs late in the game. Oh yeah, there were those sad sack attempts at tackling on kickoff coverage too. Those things said, the bottom line is Reed yet again was very, very good kicking the football when you look at his season as a whole. Reed finished the year 27 of 31 (87%) on his FG attempts and was true on all 41 of his PATs. Only 7 kickers with more than 15 FG attempts were more accurate than Reed. Reed certainly made some nice scratch in '09 - nearly $2 million bucks - but here's the list of kickers that make more than Reed and had a cap hit of at least $2 million: Robbie Gould, Joe Nedney, Adam Vinatieri, Sebastian Janokowski, Kris Brown (funny), Shayne Graham, Ryan Longwell, Jason Elam (funnier), Rob Birnoas, Jason Hansen, Josh Scobee.  Will he be back in '10? I'm not sure to be honest. I have no idea how valuable Reed might be perceived to be around the league considering he's not great from long distance and doesn't have a booming leg on kickoffs. He is valuable though to the Steelers for his ability to kick accurately at Heinz Field and to be nearly automatic from 20-45 yards out. 

9) Nick Eason - Eason may have played his way into a contract with the Steelers down the stretch of the 2009 season. He started 5 games in 2009, and after missing time in the beginning of the year, really provided a much needed boost along the defensive line late in the season. Eason matched his career high with 15 tackles in 2009, but also harassed quarterbacks like Joe Flacco and Tyer Thigpen of Miami in ways that didn't show up on the stat sheet. Eason will turn 30 years old in May, and I imagine we'll see him in the black 'n gold for another two years.

8) Joe Burnett - We didn't see much of Burnett until the second half of the season, thanks in part to his struggles in the preseason. But in the final 5-6 games, Burnett had become a playmaker on special teams and got his feet wet on defense playing in some zone packages. At under $350k, that's not too shabby. I look forward to seeing him develop in the next couple of years. 

7) Ramon Foster - The undrafted free agent rookie out of Tennessee filled in admirably at the left guard position when an injury to Chris Kemoeatu forced him into action in the final four games of the season. Foster was a tackle in college, but probably is better suited at guard in the NFL anyways. He's not slow of foot, but he's not as nimble as you'd like to see from the tackle position. So it made sense to give him a shot there when K went down. He did just fine in relief and should factor into the team's plans somehow, someway moving forward. Considering he earned just $312k, I'd say his ROI was very solid. Kudos once more to the scouting department of the Steelers for pinpointing Foster as a potential sleeper that could be had on the cheap.

6) Keyaron Fox - This 2008 free agent acquisition has proven to be worth every dime he's earned the past two seasons. Fox played in all 16 games this year, starting 3. He finished with 44 tackles and picked off his first career pass as a pro. With James Farrior showing his age, it's very possible that Fox is bestowed the 'Mack' linebacker duties in 2010. The Steelers really need Lawrence Timmons to be even better in the forthcoming years, but it'd be equally beneficial if the team was able to retain Fox at a similarly reasonable price tag as they've enjoyed this past two seasons.

5) Rashard Mendenhall - Being a 1st rounder, Mendenhall is paid fairly well for a second year player. And considering how his rookie year unfolded, it was important to provide the Steelers with some legitimate production in 2009. He did just that, accumulating 1,108 rushing yards on 242 carries. His 4.6 yards per carry put him right up in the upper crust of NFL RBs for the year alongside 'backs like Ricky Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew, Frank Gore, etc. His 7 rushing TDs also matched the rushing TD total of Willie Parker from '07 and '08 combined.

4)  Santonio Holmes - 79 receptions, 1,248 yards, 15.8 Y/R, 5 TDs. Holmes' reception totals have now increased in each of his first four NFL seasons.  I don't have the exact number in front of me but an astoundingly high number of his receptions went for first downs. He's a gamer and a keeper and given how the Limas Sweed experiment has played out thus far, I see no way that the Steelers can afford to let him get away. That means the former 1st round draft pick from Ohio State is probably in line for a contract extension this coming summer. 

3)  Stefan Logan - The former CFL star started slow but came on nicely towards the end of the season. By season's end, Logan had set the single-season kickoff return yardage record with 1,383 yards, edging the previous mark of 1,306 by Ernie Mills in 1995. At the modest price of $314,680, Logan undeniably yielded significant returns on the investment the Steelers made in him. 

2) Mike Wallace -  The 3rd rounder out of Ole Miss finished the season with 39 receptions for 756 yards, good for 19.4 Y/R - the highest average in the NFL.  Not bad, rook. Wallace also hauled in 6 TDs, including the game-winner as time expired against Green Bay. One tidbit that highlights Wallace's importance to the Steelers in '09 was the fact that the team was 5-0 in games that Wallace scored a touchdown. I don't think there's a soul in Steeler Nation who's not ecstatic about this kid's future. For at least another couple of years, the organization will reap the benefits of his toughness, speed and sure hands for pennies on the dollar.

1) LaMarr Woodley - It's hard to say exactly why LaMarr Woodley started the year off so slowly. I believe he only had 2 sacks in the first 8 games of the season - and both of those sacks came in the same game against Detroit. They say it's not how you start but how you finish - if that's true then Woodley's 2009 season was quite a success. He had a team high 13.5 sacks which was tied with Dwight Freeney for the third most in the entire NFL. Considering Woodley cost less than $900k in 2009, it's hard pressed to find too many players around the league who provided more 'bang for the buck' than did he. Though he was snubbed from the Pro Bowl (again), Woodley's time will certainly come. As will a big payday. For now, the Steelers are enjoying his tremendous talent for quite a bargain.