The speculation of the NFL’s 2021 salary cap has been going on for months. On Wednesday, teams were finally informed of the $182.5 million cap for this coming season. Teams now have a week to make sure they are salary cap compliant for the start of the new league year at 4 PM on March 17.
So where do the Steelers currently stand with the 2021 salary cap? Just a few weeks ago, the Steelers were well above $182.5 million. But now, the Steelers are a little more than $6 million under the salary cap. How did they get there? First, the Steelers had almost $5 million in rollover from 2020. Next, between the retirements a Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey, the restructures of Cameron Heyward and Derek Watt, and the new contract for Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers have moved around $41 million in the right direction.
But is it enough? Exactly what do the Steelers still need for 2021?
The Steelers exact amount under the salary cap at the moment depends on the source. According to overthecap.com, they are $6,187,086 under the salary cap while spotrac.com has the Steelers at $6,116,703. Of course, the source has a lot to do with it as there are subtle differences as exact financials of some players are not available. In both cases, the new deal for Ray-Ray McCloud has not been added. Because of roster displacement, the only amount McCloud will count towards the salary cap is whatever his salary is above $660k.
So what can Steelers do with this additional cap space? First off, it’s not really a large amount of space when looking at what the Steelers will still need to do before the NFL regular season kicks off. While there will be added expenses, they aren’t coming due right away so the Steelers have some wiggle room for the time being.
To have an idea of what the Steelers will still need to do, here are some expenses that will be coming up between now and when the Steelers kick off in Week 1 this fall. Note: The Steelers do not need to have this money available by March 17. These items are merely expenses that will come due later and they will have to make sure the funds are available at that time.
Rookie salaries: $3.2 million
Throughout May and June, the Steelers will be signing their draft picks. With their salary set by the NFL, and taking into account roster displacement, the Steelers will need the $3.2 million towards the cap for the $7,763,970 in salary for their draft picks assuming they make the eight selections they are currently scheduled for in April. As for the additional undrafted free agents who will be signed following the draft, they should not have an amount above roster displacement if they would even fall in the top 51 salaries on the Steelers.
52 and 53 players on the roster: $1.32 million
Once the Steelers set their 53-man roster this fall, the bottom two salaries will count against the salary cap. Currently, teams are only charged for their top 51 players. This amount is assuming the final two roster spots go to players making $660k for the season. If any player making more than this does not make the 53-man roster, the amount of salary cap they count above the $660k will come off of this amount. Some players who could possibly not make the roster but carry a slightly larger salary cap hit are Dwayne Haskins, who counts $850k against the salary cap. Another set of players such as Demarcus Christmas, Anthony Coyle, Charles Jones, and Tegray Scales all have salary cap numbers of $780k. Should any of these players not make the roster, or others that carry higher salary cap numbers, it would reduce this amount.
Practice squad salaries: $2 million to $2.65 million
The reason the practice squad number is a range, I based it off of a 12-man practice squad versus a 16-man practice squad. Teams are set to go back to the 12-man practice squads they were supposed to have in 2020 before they were expanded due to Covid. There is the possibility both the NFL and the Players Association could come to an agreement to keep the number at 16 players. If the number stays at 12, the Steelers need $2 million assuming they’re not paying anyone more than the minimum amount for a practice squad player.
Carryover to conduct business throughout the season : $3.5 million dollars to $5 million
The Steelers will need to have some extra money available when the season hits in order to sign new players as they have to make roster moves throughout the season. With the lowered salary cap, the Steelers could try to skimp as low as $3.5 million in this category, but they would be much better off targeting the $5 million number. Keep in mind, this is not a number that counts against the salary cap, but the Steelers will want to have this much room below the cap. Not having this amount of money does not cause them to be “over” but simply makes things more difficult.
Total amount of funds still needed against the salary cap: $12.17 million
This is the maximum number listed from everything above. This has $5 million in carryover and is assuming a 16-player practice squad. If the practice squad is only 12 players and the Steelers want to go with $4.5 million in carryover, they are looking at an additional $11 million. Seeing they are already more than $6 million under the cap, the Steelers will need to free up another $5 million at some point. Keep in mind, these amounts are not including any moves for Steelers would make in free agency where they sign any players for more than $660k.
So what do the Steelers have to do? Are there places they can find money otherwise?
Absolutely. The Steelers could still choose to cut some higher salary cap players, but they could still conduct business without doing so. A restructure of Stephon Tuitt will likely be coming eventually and could free up about $3.5 million or more.
Other cap cutting options include extending players with only one year left on their contract. Player such as Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, David DeCastro, Eric Ebron, and Vince Williams could also be extended which would lower their 2021 salary cap number. One player on the last year of their contract I did not list it was T.J. Watt who is due to play under the fifth-year option for the Steelers and counts just over $10 million on the salary cap. With a mega deal looming for Watt, it would be interesting to see if the Steelers could give him a deal which actually lowered his cap hit for the season.
As you can see, the Steelers are not as in bad of shape as it seemed it was going to be earlier this offseason. Granted, there is still plenty of work to do in order for the Steelers to build the best roster they can for 2021, but there are still options for this team to stay under the salary cap. When free agency hits next week, the Steelers have a little bit of wiggle room and could even create some more for now. Eventually, they will need to sign their draft picks, take into account the final two salaries on the roster, sign their practice squad, and have some money left over to conduct business throughout 2021. But as we have come to realize over the years, the Steelers manage to find a way to make things work.