Let's put our Kevin Colbert hats on. If we were waiting to take action until the league officially announced that magical salary cap number - $133 million on the dot - and we finally got it Friday, what are the first few moves?
To start, let's identify the situation. The Steelers must have their top 51 players under the $133 million cap on March 11, the start of the 2014 league year. That's also the start of free agency.
That means the Steelers have until then to negotiate with their pending free agents. Baltimore recently signed pending free agent Dennis Pitta to a five-year contract extension, for example. The Steelers can engage in conversations with their pending free agents without those free agents being allowed to speak with other teams until March 8.
Free agents of all teams are allowed to speak with other teams but not sign a contract between March 8-11.
So now, we have identified our timeline, so let's look at our cap.
According to Over The Cap, the Steelers' top 51 players are counting for $135,472,583 in cap dollars. They are also projected to carry over $1,352,450, bringing their salary cap to $134,352,450. The Steelers have more than 51 players on their roster, and the total cap number for every player they have right now is $140,092,583. For the sake of simplicity, and the fact the Steelers aren't in peril of not getting their cap number in compliance of the top 51 rule by March 11, we'll just go with the total roster cap number.
The first move to make is the easiest. Releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown sheds $6.25 million. Brown was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Cardinals before the Steelers' Week 6 game against the New York Jets. Brown tore a triceps muscle in warm-ups before that game, and never played a down with the Steelers. Part of the hubub of the Steelers' salary cap position in 2014 was made with Brown's $6.25 million roster salary (non-guaranteed) as part of the projections. Brown and I have an equal chance of making $6.25 million by playing professional football this year.
Keep an eye on him as someone the Steelers may bring back at a much lower price tag, but for now, he'll be released, bringing the Steelers' total salary cap number to just under $500,000 their cap, according to Over The Cap's handy salary cap calculator. Still, other moves are likely to be made anyway. But that move, along with no other activity, would put them under the cap for their top 51 players.
At this point, there are multiple options, and which one comes first may not mean anything more than certain players are around and other ones won't be back until next week or something to that effect.
Signing safety Troy Polamalu to an extension seems imminent. With a 2014 cap number of $10.88 million and a non-guaranteed roster salary of $8.25 million, the Steelers save that $8.25 million if they release him, taking on $2,637,500 in dead money in the process. Polamalu could get that $8.25 million up front and the team could lower his cap number significantly by working out a three-year extension, tearing up his previous roster salary, but keeping the prorated signing bonus from his previous deal.
A three-year extension, 2014-16, with a $10 million signing bonus, with base salaries in those years of $955,000, $1.5 million and $1.5 million, give Polamalu more than what he would have made by making the 2014 roster up front, and brings his cap number down to $6,925,833 - a savings of nearly $4 million.
That puts the Steelers 2014 salary cap at $130,233,849, which is $4,118,601 on the happy side of the cap.
Check back for Part II to see who's the first pending free agent the Steelers will sign