No one expected Maurkice Pouncey to miss all but one series of the 2013 NFL regular season, however had he not been hurt, the Pittsburgh Steelers would never have become acquainted with Fernando Velasco.
Velasco was exceptional in Pouncey's absence and will most likely receive an offer from the Steelers to stay on this off-season; however, his price tag could determine the fate of Pouncey.
The Steelers will be looking to trim as much fat as possible with their team figure opening the 2014 season above $134 million.
When scrolling the larger cap hits, Pouncey's $5.514 million number stands out, although the final year of his rookie contract leaves few options.
The Steelers only option outside of allowing Pouncey to play out his final year would be to release him before his $2.825 million roster bonus comes into play at the beginning of the regular season. Doing so would reduce his cap hit from $5.514 million to $1,400,625. However, all-pro offensive linemen don't just fall out of the sky everyday, and the team will still consider his contract a bargain for what he brings to the field.
Pouncey will become a free agent in 2015, and the Steelers will be hard pressed to come up with the money to pay him what the league will view his market value to be. To be prepared, the Steelers may attempt to re-sign Velasco now, depending on the progress of his rehabilitation. The key will be landing him to a modest offer without sacrificing any possible cap room needed to re-sign Pouncey later.
Velasco would provide insurance in 2014 should he be able to participate, and brings starting experience in 2015 and beyond should Pouncey choose a new team with a better deal. The team may only offer Velasco a one-year deal, but the multiple years could be attractive to a guy who never expected to start the 2013 season at home unemployed.
The Steelers are seemingly set along the interior with Ramon Foster, David DeCastro and whomever winds up playing center. The problem, as is with most positions on the roster, is a lack of depth. Kelvin Beachum was intended to be a primary reserve, but is unavailable while starting at left tackle.
The team had some intriguing prospects in training camp, but lost Justin Cheadle and Nik Embernate to season ending injuries before the season ever started. Embernate is still technically under contract, giving him another chance in training camp this off-season.
Cody Wallace, who started in Week 14 for the Steelers against the Miami Dolphins at center, is a free agent in 2014. David Snow was signed as an emergency reserve when with Pouncey and Velasco on IR, and Beachum nursing his own injuries while starting at LT. Snow is unlikely to make the final roster for 2014.
For now, the only change being made to the Play Money tracker is the proposed addition of Velasco; but as the off-season progresses, keep a close eye on Pouncey's above-average cap hit. Pouncey holds the advantage as long-term solution due to his age. Velasco will be 29 next season compared to Pouncey's 25. However, the number any decisions may come down to will be their cap figures.
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