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Steelers Salary Cap, Part 1: Two CBA quirks that will affect how the team does business in 2020

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We take a deep dive into the Pittsburgh Steelers salary cap positioning heading into 2020.

Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 offseason started when they did not make the playoffs. As we all know, there is no true offseason in the NFL. One aspect that has become a hot topic here at BTSC is players the team should keep, ditch, and bring in via free agency. Before readers can fill out their wish list or take out their frustration and demand a player be jettisoned from the team, people need to be informed about the ramifications such a move would incur. Because of two quirks in the last year of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, the team cannot operate with the mentality of business as usual. (There are other quirks but they will not affect the Steelers.)

What are the two quirks in the NFL’s CBA that will affect the Steelers 2020 cap situation?

The first, the 30 percent rule. What is it? A stipulation in the CBA states that a team cannot pay a player over 30 percent, on a restructured or new contract signed in 2020, from 2020 to 2021, 2021 to 2022, and 2022 to 2023. This also includes restructured deals.

To put this into real-world scenario, let’s look at Bud Dupree. If the Steelers wanted to give him a five year contract and his 2020 cap hit was $10 million, his 2021 salary could be no greater than $13 million. His cap hit for 2022 could not be greater than $16 million while his 2023 cap hit could not be greater than $19 million. In essence, no backloading the contact to give the team cap relief in 2020, which is desperately needed.

Joe Haden’s contract is a prime example. He could not have signed his deal in 2020 because his second year cap hit of $12.6 million is over 30 percent greater than his first year of $8,716,668.

The Steelers have for years structured contracts in a fashion that restructuring the deal down the road can happen. Because of the 30 percent rule, the team cannot save drastic amounts of cap space with a restructure. In a normal season, Stephon Tuitt would be a prime candidate for a restructure. His P5 (Base salary) is $9 million. The Steelers would normally give him $8 million of his P5 salary in the form of a signing bonus reducing his cap hit to $9.61 million. But such a move would cause his 2021 salary to be much greater than 30 percent of his 2020 cap number.

The second quirk, the team cannot declare a player as a Post June 1 cut. What does that mean you ask? If a player has over one season left on his contract, his organization can opt to declare him as such and spread the dead money from the guaranteed money left on his contract over two seasons.

To put this into perspective let’s look at Ben Roethlisberger’s contact. Big Ben has two years left on his deal and has already been paid out his signing bonus. If the team feels that he cannot continue his playing career, they would cut him before his $12.5 million roster bonus due on March 22. Each of the next two seasons have $12.5 million in prorated signing bonus money. In a normal season, the team could opt to eat $12.5 million in dead money each season. Not 2020 though. The Steelers would have to eat the full $25 million in 2020.

Why is the above so important to understand for 2020? Just glancing at Over the Cap and Steeler Nation will notice that the team is sitting on just under $4.9 million in cap space. This includes 2020 dead cap space, 2019 carryover money, and an increase of $12 million over 2019 season.

That figure is for the 46 players under contract. (The Steelers have more that the team signed from the practice squad but OTC does not have them listed.) This is not even enough money to sign the team’s 2020 draft class which is projected to cost close to $5.1 million.

What other costs are not included in OTC’s figures? That is what I will tackle in the second part of this series, so be on the lookout for upcoming articles where I bloat the cap and then get the team in compliance with NFL rules.