Coming into the 2021 NFL offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers had two obvious candidates to save significant money in restructures. The first, Cam Heyward, came on Monday as the Steelers saved just over $7 million towards the 2021 salary cap by pushing all but the minimum of Heyward's $10.5 million salary into a signing bonus.
The other player many expect to do a restructure for 2021 is Heyward‘s counterpart on the defensive line, Stephon Tuitt. While the Steelers could save a significant amount towards the 2021 Salary cap by restructuring Tuitt, there are two factors which make it different than the Cam Heyward situation. First, Tuitt only has one year remaining on his contract beyond 2021, so any restructure will count half this season and half next season were Heyward’s restructure was spread out as a smaller amount over four years.
The bigger issue when it comes to doing a restructure for Stephon Tuitt is the fact that his contract falls under the old Collective Bargaining Agreement. Because the new CBA included how things would work should the NFL add a 17th regular-season game, players whose contracts were signed under the former CBA are set to earn 1/17 above their salary for the season. For the salaries on the old CBA, the extra money is coming out of various pools and will not count towards the salary cap. The money will first come from the Performance Based Pool, then the Rookie Redistribution fund, and then New Player Benefits as listed in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
So how does this make things more difficult for Stephon Tuitt versus Cam Heyward?
Since Heyward was under the new CBA, his salary moving forward operates under the assumption of an added 17th game. Therefore his totals do not change whether the NFL stays at 16 games or add the extra game in 2021. But for Tuitt, he is set to earn extra money based on his salary by playing an extra game. Were he to reduce his salary into a signing bonus, he is set to take a financial hit.
Tuitt’s base salary for 2021 is currently $9 million, so he would get almost an extra $530k for an extra game. If he restructures to a minimum base salary and takes the signing bonus, he’s set to lose that money as he would not be eligible for the additional game pay. Players who are on a league-minimum salary are not eligible to gain the extra game check because the league decided to raise the league minimum contract numbers in order to compensate for the 17th game.
So the first thing any player under the old CBA may want to do when signing a restructure is have a base salary slightly higher than the league minimum. Additionally, the Steelers would possibly have to pay Tuitt the difference he would be set to lose from the extra game in the signing bonus to make up what he would have been paid had he not done a restructure. Also, that difference, if added to the signing bonus, would now count toward the salary cap.
Even though the numbers could end up being a little different based on this, it wouldn’t keep the Steelers into it from doing the restructure. The bigger issue which could be holding things up is the NFL has not announced that they are definitely doing a 17th game this year. Until that decision is made, it makes restructures under the old system quite difficult. For this reason, it would be the player who would be wise to wait to see if an extra game is going to be added to the schedule.
Here’s an example of a Stephon Tuitt restructure if the NFL goes to 17 games this season. Let’s say the Steelers restructure Tuitt with a base salary of $1.5 million in order to allow him to still get some benefits from playing the extra game. At this amount, his extra game check would come in a little under $90k. So by doing a restructure, even though he would receive some extra payment for a 17th game, the amount will be short by about $440k. If the Steelers then give Tuitt the difference in his signing bonus, it means now they have extra money counting towards the salary cap which wouldn’t have been there before. Of course, it would be spread out to be about $220k each season. If this is what the two sides were to agree upon, Tuitt’s final cap savings would be $3.53 million for 2021.
So the numbers might not be exactly what are projected when it comes to a restructure for Stephon Tuitt, but it still looks to be north of $3.5 million in savings if the two sides are able to work things out. What they need more than anything is an answer of how many games teams are playing this season in order to move forward. Or perhaps both sides surprise us and do the deal regardless of the questions surrounding a 17th game.