The trade of Antonio Brown was a necessity that had horrendous salary cap ramifications for 2019, but at least the Pittsburgh Steelers will be off the hook for his 2020 salary. Which meant cap room to go on an offseason spending spree in March 2020, right?
Pittsburgh sits on $1 million, smallest amount in the NFL by $4 million, in cap space right now. That is not even enough to pay the 10 or 11 man practice squad. The figure would not be enough to cover the 52 and 53 players who are not counted against the cap as of now. Do not forget that the team generally carries over around $3.5 million to help cover in season expenses that may pop up. Players may be cut or traded while contract restructures could be in the works. Cap relief could also happen if a player such as Bud Dupree signs a long-term contract. Such a move would just shift cap space that is spoken for in 2019 and is not included in 2020.
Spotrac projects the Steelers are $3 million over the cap for 2020 while accounting for $10 million in NFL salary cap growth. Will Pittsburgh shove some restructured money into 2020? The scenario seems all too realistic. An educated guess of $2-4 million pushing the Steelers over the cap by $5-7 million. The 2020 draft class will need to be accounted for. Before the trades in the 2018 draft, Pittsburgh would have a cap hit of $2.7 million after displacement. And then again the team needs to account for the 52 and 53 players and practice squad which a high-end total of $3 million is seeable. A conservative number would put the Steelers $10 million over the cap in 2020.
Ten million is child’s play for the Steelers to overcome but what will be tough is dealing with the team’s free agents. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave, safety Sean Davis, Bud Dupree, and Joe Haden are all starters staring down 2020 with no contract. Five other players were on the Steelers 53-man roster in 2018 will also become unrestricted free agents. The team has eight players eligible for the expensive restricted free agent tag. Of those, cornerback Mike Hilton and right tackle Matt Feiler will have to prove their worth in 2019 to be tagged or offered contracts. What will the status of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier be?
One player under contract for 2020 who could demand a new deal, would be superstar in the making, JuJu Smith-Schuster. If he even sniffs the 2018 production this season, he would have a strong case to be an $18 million per year wideout and not make his paltry $1 million base salary in 2020.
Fans rejoiced when the Steelers parted ways with the distraction formerly known as AB and rejoiced at the 2020 cap savings. The issue was, fans were looking at 2020 from a distance and not getting up close and personal. Also, they were not taking into account the massive contract that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would sign. (He has never taken a hometown discount or a cap friendly first year on his contracts.)
What is your plan for the Steelers to squeeze cap space out before the start of the 2019 season?
Who is in line for an extension, what will those extensions look like, and how are you going to pay for that in 2020?