Obviously there is no intent of disrespect to the players announcing their retirement following the 2020 NFL season, but one of the results of both Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey deciding to call it a career in Pittsburgh is some relief in regards to the Steelers 2021 salary cap situation. In case you haven’t heard, the Pittsburgh Steelers are needing to make some tough decisions as they are well over the projected salary cap for this coming season. Exactly what the cap will be is only a projection at this time as the NFL has not announced the number needed for teams to be under with their top 51 salaries on March 17.
Before getting into exactly where the Steelers stand, to quickly answer the question as to why the NFL has not announced the 2021 salary cap is because there are many things going on with the 2021 season which have not been agreed upon between both the league and the NFLPA. Is the NFL going to a 17 game season this fall? Will there be a new TV contract? Will both sides agree to not lower the salary cap as much for 2021 due to a projected cap jump for the 2022 season?
There is no guarantee anything is being worked out between the NFL and the Players Association which will help the salary cap, but if there is even a possibility of the two sides agreeing on something different for 2021 it would most likely benefit for Steelers in someway.
So where do the Steelers stand at this moment? According to overthecap.com, the Steelers are a little over $30 million above the projected 2021 salary cap. The number they are going with is just around $180 million which is $5 million higher than the floor set forth last season of $175 million.
If you haven’t noticed already, I’m using an awful lot of approximate values. It’s very difficult to get down to the exact dollar amounts when things are not known. Therefore, these approximate values are going to give an estimation of the Steelers salary cap situation.
Another factor included in the number by overthecap.com is the amount of carryover the Steelers have from the 2020 season where they did not spend up to the salary cap. As has been previously reported, the Steelers have just over $5 million they are expected to carryover. By looking at the numbers used, the $30 million over over the cap has taken this amount into account.
Next, the retirements a Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey will have the money due to them off the books for 2021. Of course, the dead money will carry through, but the base salary which would have been earned by each player will come off the salary cap.
These numbers are known for sure as Vance McDonald will save the Steelers $5.2 million towards the salary cap and Maurkice Pouncey will have $8 million coming off the books. A mistake some may make is the fact that $13.2 million doesn’t come off the salary cap as there will be displacement of the Steelers top 51 salaries. With players making $660,000 each moving up into the top 51, the Steelers will net just under $12 million of relief towards the salary cap.
So of the $30 million the Steelers will need to cut, almost $12 million has been done without them having to make any decisions on their own. Granted the Steelers have more than $18 to still cut if the salary cap ends up around the $180 million mark.
So what else can the Steelers do to better their situation? First of all, any amount the salary cap ends up over $180 million is that much less that the Steelers have to worry about. Additionally, the Steelers are set to trim part of their salary cap based on anything done with the contract of Ben Roethlisberger. If Roethlisberger calls it a career and does not play in 2021, then over $18 million would move in the Steelers favor because of the $19 million in salary minus the displacement of moving another player into the top 51. If Ben Roethlisberger stays with the Steelers and there is no displacement but they rework his contract and give him a small extension, I could see the Steelers saving at least $10 million if they can work things out.
Additionally, there is money to be saved with the restructures of players with multiple years left on their deal such as Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward. If the Steelers are looking to restructure as much as possible for both players, they could save another $10 million.
Of course, there could still be roster cuts and other contract extensions in order to get players salary cap numbers down for the 2021 season.
All of these numbers are merely talking about where the Steelers need to be come the start of the 2021 league year on March 17. The Steelers will also need additional salary cap space in order to sign their draft picks, take into account players 52 and 53 on the roster, sign their practice squad, and take some money into the season in order to do business and have carryover if not used. But for now, the most important issue is what the Steelers can do at the start of the league year. As we have seen in years past where the Steelers can find money in other ways in order to prepare for these things.
Are the Steelers still over the 2021 projected salary cap? Yes they are. Did the retirement of McDonald and Pouncey help with this? Yes it did. Are there other ways to get salary cap compliant without completely gutting the roster? Yes there is, but signing free agent players is still going to be difficult. But as we’ve seen in the past, difficult does not mean impossible for the Steelers as there is still a lot of work to be done with the 2021 salary cap.