$23,195,291. Let that number sink in. That is the number that I bloated the Pittsburgh Steelers cap up to for the 2020 season. Because of quirks in the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers cannot do business as usual with massive contract restructuring that has led to a precarious situation. How does this get solved?
Now there will be big choices which have to be made. Players will have to be jettisoned, business as usual will not be the norm, and contracts will have to be re-worked.
Players who have to go:
Mark Barron: $5,250,000 cap savings with $2,875,000 in dead cap space. Barron was an upgrade on Jon Bostic but was still a liability in 2019. There was never a chance he would count $8 million against the cap in 2020 and why I was so adamant against his signing.
Vance McDonald: $5,672,500 cap savings with $1,455,000 in dead cap space. McDonald missed another two games due to injury while being a mediocre blocker. The biggest issue is, if the Steelers offense refuses to utilize him (38 receptions in 2019), he is just not worth the money.
Anthony Chickillo: $5,000,000 cap savings with $1,097,500 in dead cap space. A headscratchign contract that paid Chickillo $1.9 million in 2019. Core special teamers are valued, just not worth $6.1 million while playing 143 defensive snaps in 2020.
Ramon Foster: $4,000,000 cap savings with $1,575,000 in dead cap space. Foster and Maurkice Pouncey were neck and neck for the worst offensive linemen in 2019 but Pouncey keeps his roster spot while Foster does not at age 34.
Jordan Berry: $1,800,000 cap savings with $375,000 in dead cap space. Berry is best remembered for struggling late in the season while fans forget his strong punting for much of the season. The 2020 12th highest cap hit punter in the league, is too high even for his overall 2019 punting.
Roosevelt Nix: $1,012,500 cap savings with $875,000 in dead cap space. Nix played in three games in 2019 because of injury. Another poor contract overpaying a special team player in 2020. Nix does not offer much on offense as a blocker or as a weapon to justify his salary.
Displacement costs: $3,060,000
Over the cap: $3,520,291
Other cuts could be made but they would save just a could hundred thousand dollars each. Instead of doing some nitpicking (or make a controversial cut of Ryan Shazier), time to restructure big dollars instead. Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, and Joe Haden could be restructured to save cap space, but could push big dead money into 2021.
David DeCastro is a prime candidate for a restructure because of his 2021 cap hit is lower than his 2020 cap hit. DeCastro can convert $6M of his base salary to a signing bonus. This move would reduce his cap hit next year to $10,647,500 and would bump his 2021 cap hit to $13,447,500 which would be within the 30% rule.
Other restructures could give the Steelers a few million more in cap space but the team still needs substantial cap relief to go out and snare a few free agents to fix the holes above. The only place this could occur is to sign Dupree to a long-term deal. This is easier said than done.
I have been a vocal critic of the “Steelers way” with not guaranteeing more then one year contracts for years now. If T.J. Watt remains on his torrid pace, he will become the league’s highest paid defensive player in a year or two and will demand his contract be structured like other top players in the NFL. Time to emerge out of the stone age and do what 30 other NFL teams do and guarantee more years and give Dupree guaranteed money and years on a new deal. (The Green Bay Packers are the only other team that conducts business in this fashion.)
Why would Dupree take a contract with $20-30 million guaranteed when other outside linebackers taking home over $30 million in guaranteed money? Time for the Steelers to join the new decade and keep the team’s duo of OLBs who have amassed 43.5 sacks and 19 forced fumbles in the past two seasons.
Will Dupree take an average of $16 million season? Will he take two seasons fully guarantee and not want more? Just spit balling here, but I will say the answer to both of them is yes.
2020 cap hit: $10 million
2021 cap hit: $13 million
2022 cap hit: $16 million
2023 cap hit: $19 million
2024 cap hit: $22 million
BTSC fans can debate how the structure of the contract would be, but to ensure Dupree would sign it and the Steelers keep compliant, the first two seasons would need to be fully guaranteed and not just for injury.
Such a bold move would allow the Steelers to keep an integral part of their defense with them for years to come, but also give the team over $6 million in cap space to sign valued free agents to fill the holes created by the cuts proposed above.
No matter what moves Steelers GM Kevin Colbert and contract guru Omar Khan implement, the team will have to make some painful moves. Dead cap space is a fact of the NFL, but when contracts are structured so they build the dead money in — fans should be frustrated. The Steelers have struggled with playoff success since the NFL implemented the CBA in 2011 and finally it has come to a head in 2020 with the current salary cap crisis.