The NFL’s salary cap is going to take a hard turn this offseason, and cap spending teams like the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get ripped apart because of it. With current projections of the salary cap sitting anywhere between 175 and 194 Million dollars in 2021, the Steelers could be in cap hell. There are ways for the Steelers to add some space by extending players, but even then the organization will need to let a large majority of their free agents walk.
On the positive side, the Steelers should see a title wave of compensatory selections for the 2022 NFL Draft after letting those free agents go, and, to put a cherry on top, they currently have an NFL leading $172 million dollars in projected cap space in the 2022 offseason. Sure that number will drop as they extend players, like T.J. Watt, but the Steelers will have a ton of cash to sure up their future.
But where does that leave us in 2021?
Well the Steelers will be faced with letting key free agents walk out the door, as well as making cuts to players on cuttable deals. Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster will both roughly command $18 Million per year. Losing both players looks to be an inevitability, but each should give the Steelers back a third round compensatory selection. Thankfully, the Steelers have already brought in replacements via the 2020 NFL Draft, those being Chase Claypool and Alex Highsmith. The Steelers should however, be able to free up enough money to retain players like Mike Hilton, Zach Banner, and Robert Spillane.
But to come up with some money the Steelers are going to have to cut a few players. The most cuttable contracts on the Steelers right now include Joe Haden, Vince Williams, Vance McDonald, Eric Ebron, David DeCastro, Steven Nelson, and Maurice Pouncey. While Ben Roethlisberger could give the Steelers some cap relief by extending his deal another year, at this time I’m not sure anyone would actually want that to happen.
So how should the Steelers round out their roster for potentially one more run with Ben Roethlisberger?
Well they don't have to look any further than the 2010 New York Jets for a simple solution. Back in 2010 the Jets had just lost to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game. They were trying to maximize having a rookie quarterback on his entry deal, and they were looking for some extra bite to their roster. The Jets swooped in an signed a load of former All-Pro players that were on their last legs for one more run. Check out some of the names they brought in:
Former NFL MVP: LaDainian Tomlinson ($1.9 Million)
Former NFL DPOY: Jason Taylor ($1.8 Million)
Former NFL Pro Bowler: Mark Brunnell ($1.4 Million)
Traded for former Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes
Traded for former Pro Bowler Antonio Cromartie
When we relate this philosophy to next years Pittsburgh Steelers, we need to look at a few key positions that likely won't receive NFL Draft attention. The most important thing we must take into consideration is just how many offensive lineman the Steelers will select this year. Depending on how the roster shapes up, I would anticipate up to three offensive lineman are selected. Next, we must note the departing players that won't be replaced via the draft or position groups that need veteran guidance. The Steelers might need to completely revamp their tight end room, and their receivers and running back rooms haven't had a veteran role model in years. So, with that in mind, here are the players I could see the Steelers targeting to help the team remain competitive, be good voices in the locker room, and be genuine bridge players.
Here are the list of targets and a projected cap hit:
Frank Gore: 1 Year, $750,000
Larry Fitzgerald: 1 Year, $2,000,000
Zach Ertz (TRADE): 1 Year, $4,702,000
J.J. Watt: 1 Year, $3,000,000 (contingent on released)
All of these players have the motivation to make this move. For Frank Gore, he gets a shot at a title while mentoring a 2021 Steelers draft pick. Larry Fitzgerald gets to end his career in the place it started for a shot at a title. Zach Ertz will be traded or released, and the Steelers could cut both of their top tight ends. And J.J. Watt gets to play with his brothers and for one of the best owners in sports (and is rumored to not care about NFL money).
To top it off you get those players for less than what it would take to bring back either Dupree, or Smith-Schuster.
Yes, this would be an extremely uncharacteristic Steelers approach to the offseason. But, this is an extremely uncharacteristic offseason in general, and the Steelers might only have one more shot at a title with Roethlisberger. The only way of bringing any talent in is to find them in the bargain bin, and the only way to do that is a pair of 38 year old skill players, and taking advantage of two players going through a messy divorce with teams they were once iconic for.
What do you think? Would the Steelers be this bold? Is this a smart way of getting the most out of what could b Ben Roethlisberger’s final season? Let us know your thoughts down in the comments below.