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Steelers Salary Cap, Part 2: Cap Space remaining, and what counts towards the final number

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are in offseason mode, which means it is time to evaluate their salary cap situation heading into 2020.

Baltimore Ravens v Pittsburgh Steelers

In the first part of this series, I explored the two quirks of the CBA that will hinder how the Pittsburgh Steelers do business in 2020. The crutch of kicking serious cap space down the road is not available to the team in 2020 through restructures. Do the Steelers even need this crutch in 2020, and not keep putting the bills on that zero percent interest credit card? In this segment of the series I will delve into where the team stands cap wise and the aspects that must be included into the 2020 cap.

Where does the team sit salary cap wise for 2020?

To answer that question we need to dredge into some NFL salary cap 101. Strolling over to Over the Cap we see a set of numbers that may or may not mean much depending on if you have read my articles in the past.

Total Cap Liabilities: $198,490,414

Top 51: $195,921,452

Team Cap Space: $4,895,081

The first number is the total liabilities for 2020. This includes dead cap space from players who were cut in 2019 along with all salaries and bonuses that could count against the 2020 cap. Why is the total cap liabilities and the Top 51 different?

The Top 51 is including credits from 2019 in the form of unspent 2019 cap space referred to as carryover money. The Rule of 51 is for only the 51 largest cap hits in 2020 and a figure we will ignore. We care about ALL liabilities that the Steelers will need to account for when the 2020 season starts. Not some meaningless figure that matters from mid-March until the beginning of September that ignores important expenditures.

Right now there is only one number we care about and that is team cap space. For this exercise, OTC and I are going off of the 2020 NFL cap figure of $200 million. What does that number truly mean? It means the team is broke. Steeler Nation knows that $5 does not go far in the offseason. But what needs to be paid out besides free agents from other teams?

Something you might have missed when you first glanced at OTC is the Steelers have 46 players under contract. (The team has more but OTC has not added them yet. These were players signed to future contracts who were on the practice squad.) I will not include these players because of their low salaries. Most, if not all would fall outside of the 53 highest salaries.

Here is what is missing from 2020 and need to be accounted for.

Free agents in the form of restricted free agents (RFA), exclusive right free agents (ERFA) and, unrestricted free agents (UFA). There are nine UFA, five RFA, and three ERFA who are not signed. While the team, will resign not all some will and they will carry hefty price tags, especially the ones with the RFA tags.

The 2020 NFL draft class is unaccounted for. The draft class will count $5.1 million (approximately.). But do not count the full amount when they are drafted. We will not know the full cost of their contracts until they sign their contracts. (Not much wiggle room for making more. That is for another time.)

The practice squad of 10 or 11 players has not been counted against the cap either. While the exact salaries for practice squad members is not out (Or I could not find it.), I went off of $8,400 per week per player for 17 weeks which is $1.426 million.

Hold on, not done yet. The Steelers still need carryover money in case of emergencies during the regular season. Once injuries hit during the regular season, Pittsburgh needs a slush fund to dip into. $3.5 million is the amount I use for these calculations.

See, I was not kidding on saying the team is broke. Hold off on trying to sign AJ Green, Teddy Bridgewater, Anthony Castonzo, Melvin Gordon, or Devin McCourty until the finances are dug into further.

The team does not have enough spare change to cover the expense of the draft class. How severe is it really? That is where the next two segments in this series will shed more light. Who gets the different tags and who gets jettisoned? The team can get all wild and crazy and sign their RFAs and even franchise tag Bud Dupree but the organization has to comply with the NFL salary cap by 4 PM EST on March 18.