When the minor sedimentary cloud of particles of Stephon Tuitt's contract vacates our space, the Steelers will be left with roughly $6 million in cap space.
This is a substantial surplus, considering this organization was, before June 1, just couch cushion change underneath it.
So the question is now, what to do with it?
Odds are excellent part of the reason the Steelers decided to part ways with LaMarr Woodley and his contract was due to what can be considered Phase Two of Free Agency. In Phase One, the big names and somewhat smaller names are signed to new contracts with new teams. That market slows down and teams begin looking to address their needs through the draft.
Those draft picks (nine of them, in the Steelers' case) sign contracts and don their shorts and helmets for football-like activities. Despite logic suggesting the impossibility of properly completing such a task, teams evaluate those rookies in shorts, and make determinations of how they can be utilized this season.
The Steelers signed veteran defensive end Cam Thomas in free agency, and drafted Notre Dame defensive end Stephon Tuitt. With minicamp ending Thursday, the team finishes up their short-pants evaluations of both of those players, and are likely asking themselves if what they have at the defensive end spot opposite Cameron Heyward is enough to enter the season at a high level.
Other teams are asking the same kinds of questions, but perhaps they're coming to different conclusions. Salary cap space is one thing, the owner's lack of desire to spend money if he doesn't have to is another. The Kansas City Chiefs cut cornerback Brandon Flowers, the recipient of a 5-year, $50 million deal with $22 million in guarantees in 2011, largely because the team felt it could save money without dropping off in production much at that position.
Flowers entered Phase Two of Free Agency, and he sits there now, attracting suitors probably as I hack this column out. I've heard whispers the Steelers are among the 10 teams who have reportedly reached out to Flowers, although that's not really much in terms of significant interest. Dialing him up to see what kind of money he's looking to get is due diligence, not legitimate and targeted interest. However, we can trace the Steelers' desire to be players in Phase Two back to the decision to release Woodley.
Sure, the team had to eat a fatty caloric plate of dead money, but it also cleared them with enough space to make a run at a player deemed to be too expensive - not under-talented - by a team finishing up its evaluations of its rookie class.
Perhaps Flowers is a legit target of theirs. He was released days ago but still remains unsigned. That's also suggestive other teams are still in the process of evaluating who they have on their rosters.
In doing that, they may cut another talented but expensive player. That ultimately could drive down that player's asking price, leaving teams with some cap space, like the Steelers, capable of assuming the Condor Position and swoop in for the treasure left in another team's trash heap.
Maybe the next player is a defensive end. Someone versatile, athletic and experienced. It's not a matter of talent, but rather, of timing. And the Steelers have positioned themselves well to sit back and wait for the inevitable.
Someone good will be released, and the Steelers aren't finished yet in free agency.