The national media has been raining doom and gloom over the Steelers franchise ever since General Manger Kevin Colbert was seemingly non-committal on his future hall of fame quarterback. But when you consider the possibility of a lowered salary cap, and 24 free agents, you can understand why this situation could get sticky. As we sit here today the Steelers have massive holes at running back, tackle, center, tight end, depth receivers, depth pass rushers, and nickel corner. If the Steelers are forced into making additional moves to reach the salary cap floor you could add the positions of quarterback, cornerback, linebacker, and guard to this list.
Doom and gloom indeed.
The 2021 regular season opponents offer the Steelers no favors either. The team plays a first place schedule while also facing the NFC North, who the Steelers historically struggle against. Along with the NFC North, they also are paired with the AFC West, who the Steelers historically have had issues with. Factor in the most likely opponent for the proposed 17th game being the Seattle Seahawks and you’re looking at possibly the toughest schedule in the league. On top of all that, they have to do all this with a significantly weakened roster.
A look at our 2021 opponents.— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) January 17, 2021
Now might be the unfortunate time to rip the band-aid off and move on from some of those aging players. If the Steelers are destined to finish 6-10 (or 6-11) they could instead speed up a rebuilding process by not pushing any more money into the future and just moving on from older players at the end of their current deals. By cutting these players the Steelers could afford to bring back some of their younger free agents while also giving themselves additional money which can roll over into 2022.
The following list of players are in the final year of their deals and could be cut in the event of the tear down.
Ben Roethlisberger — $19,000,000 cap savings
Joe Haden — $7,000,000 cap savings
Vince Williams — $4,000,000 cap savings
Eric Ebron — $6,000,000 cap savings
Steven Nelson — $8,250,000 cap savings
*David DeCastro (trade value) — $8,750,000 cap savings
Moving on from these six players would save the Steelers an additional $53,000,000. Add that to the $13,200,000 saved from the retirements of Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey and the $5,000,000 from 2020 cap carry over, and the Steelers would find themselves with only $144,559,260 against the salary cap. Nearly $35,000,000 under the lowest possible cap figure of $180,000,000. This money could be used to bring back a few of their key free agents like Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, and Mike Hilton amongst others.
But, in this scenario the Rooney family would have to eat a ton of dead cap space. Which may make them inclined to not spend much of the newly found dollars. Instead saving this money for the 2022 season. A year where the cap could balloon by $40,000,000 and the Steelers already sit amongst the league leaders in salary space.
Taking a gut punch in 2021 appears inevitable, so the Steelers could just accept their fate and push out the old guard. With it would come some of the highest draft positioning the team has had in decades, and with it the potential of finding a quarterback.
#Steelers don't deploy multi-year plans. Long-term rarely trumps short term. B/c, as Mike Tomlin said last month: "It is our desire to be competitive, to compete for and pursue a world championship every year."— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 17, 2021
The flip side to that is constant restructures, pushes and cap hell.
For years we, as Steelers fans, have only known this organization as one that never rebuilds, but a team that retools and continues to compete for championships. However, the COVID-19 pandemic might just force the Steelers into a true rebuild. The trick is to get out of it as soon as possible.
What do you think? If the Steelers are forced to cut ties with Ben Roethlisberger should they also move on from other aging stars on expiring deals? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.