clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Steelers have options for managing the 2021 salary cap, they just have decisions to make

Although the Steelers salary cap situation looks bad going into 2021, there are ways around it depending on what they want to do.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Buffalo Bills Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

During the 2020 offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers chose to restructure basically every contract available in order to maximize their salary cap space. Unfortunately, with the majority of those contracts only running through 2021, all the money they pushed down the road is now coming due. So does this mean the Steelers’ salary cap situation is hopeless?

As we’ve learned in years past, the Steelers always find away.

Ultimately, the Steelers are going to have to decide the route they are going to take. It’s not that they must do the same thing across the board, but they have options with a number of their players. It’s going to take a lot of work, but once the decisions are made when it comes to players the Steelers have options to reduce the salary cap in multiple places. As reported by Mark Kaboly of The Athletic, the Steelers just saved $15 million on the salary cap without having to decide anything themselves:

I spent the last three days outlining which category the Steelers 16 biggest salary cap hits fit into going in the 2021 (It was 17, then Vance McDonald retired). I placed every player who had a cap hit of at least $1.5 million into one of three categories. The reason this figure was chosen is because it eliminated almost all rookie contracts a deals at or close to the league minimum.

The first category was players who would actually increase the Steelers salary cap if they were released because of the amount of dead money would be more than their current cap number. In other words, it’s safe to label these players “uncuttable.” This has nothing to do with how they were performing on the field, but their contract for 2021 is in a way where there’s no benefit in releasing them.

An example of this type of player would have been the Steelers’ situation with Antonio Brown in 2019. By trading Brown, he actually cost Steelers more towards the 2019 salary cap that if he would have been playing under his current contract. Unfortunately, Brown forced his way out and Steelers had to take the hit.

Having contracts such as these are not a problem, but when players end up not playing it can cripple a franchise for years. This is why the Steelers are not parting ways with any of these players.

Hopefully this is a little better explanation for this article as some people seemed to be confused as to why it was even being written and why I was suggesting these players should be cut. That was not what I was intending and hopefully, after the rest of the series came out, it became much more clear that this was simply putting each of the Steelers top 16 salaries into one of these categories.

The next group of players are ones where the Steelers could save salary cap space, but the amount of dead money which would still count towards the 2021 salary cap was more than the savings. It doesn’t mean that these players can’t be released, it just means it would come with notable consequences.

The final category of these players were ones who had some dead money, but the salary cap savings was a much higher figure. These players are ones where it would make sense to move on from a financial standpoint if the Steelers were not happy with their own field production. Remember, this is dealing strictly with the numbers, as the notion of moving on from a player such as T.J. Watt would be much more crippling than 100 bad contracts.

With this basic review session, the Steelers have a number of players in which they need to do something about their 2021 contract. That something could be simply moving on from the player and regaining as much as they can towards the salary cap. Especially with aging players, this is often the case when they head into the last year of their contract. But with a number of players on the Steelers, the best thing to do is a contract extension in order to lower the 2021 cap hit as much as they can and spread the money out into future years.

As much as 2020 was the year of the restructure for the Steelers, 2021 looks to be the year of the extension. Before the extensions start coming, the first thing that will happen is the Steelers will release any players that they’re not planning to extend. Once those players have been determined, look for a number of extensions in order to help Steelers get below the 2021 salary cap and possibly even have a little bit of space to retain a few of their upcoming unrestricted free agents.

Can’t get enough salary cap talk? Listen to BTSC’s Matt Peverell of Steelers Touchdown Under in his solo salary cap podcast “The Cap Room” below.