The 2021 NFL draft at all but upon us. Leading up to the draft, the Steelers have continued to build their offseason roster in an attempt to put them in the best position both for the draft and the upcoming season. Having to navigate a lower the salary cap has been tricky, but the Steelers have managed to have the space in order to make the moves they have deemed necessary.
The Steelers currently have 75 players under contract for the 2021 offseason. With the limit being 90 players, the Steelers have the room to add their eight scheduled draft picks as well as additional undrafted free agents. Chances are, the Steelers will be adding more than 15 players over the next week, therefore adjustments to the offseason roster will happen as players sign their contracts.
As reported on Sunday, the Steelers have just over $11 million in salary cap space with all 75 players under contract.
While the Steelers will be shelling out money with contracts to their 2021 rookies, what is more important is how much they will count towards the salary cap. And although the draft picks alone will cost more than $8 million in salary, they are only slated to cost $2.75 million towards the salary cap according to overthecap.com. The reason for this is roster displacement.
In the offseason, only the top 51 salaries count towards a team’s salary cap. This is in order to keep an even balance across the NFL as teams carry a different amount of players at any given time. Because of this, any new contract only affects the salary cap if it lands in the top 51 salaries of a team. When it does, the entire cap hit doesn’t change the number because of the player knocked out of the top 51.
Here is how I explain roster displacement in my various salary cap articles:
To determine how much each player changes the Steelers’ salary cap space, their cap number must be adjusted due to roster displacement. As a reminder, roster displacement is taking into account only the top 51 contracts for a team count towards the salary cap during the offseason. As a larger contract comes on the books, it bumps a smaller contract out of the top 51. Therefore, it’s only the difference in those contracts that increases the salary cap number.
As the Steelers have continued to sign players to the roster, the salaries falling right at the top 51 cut off have been increasing as other players are moved farther down the list. When OTC estimates how much a draft class will cost against the cap, they are assuming that every salary they displace is the league minimum of $660k. But for the Steelers, they have already been displacing salaries at a higher amount out of the top 51.
To get a better picture of all this, here are the salary cap numbers of every player the Steelers are scheduled to draft in 2021 according to overthecap.com. These numbers are set by the Collective Bargaining Agreement before these players are even selected.
Pick 24 (1): $2,372,268
Pick 55 (2): $1,096,034
Pick 87 (3): $886,502
Pick 128 (4): $834,476
Pick 140 (4): $784,836
Pick 216 (6): $696,644
Pick 245 (7): $683,610
Pick 254 (7): $680,183
As you can see, this number could fluctuate if the Steelers do any trading during the draft. For now, everything is based on the Steelers scheduled picks.
The other item of note is determining how many of these salaries will actually fall in the top 51 since the Steelers are already displacing higher salaries than normal. Here are the current bottom five salary cap numbers (47-51) that are counting towards the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Based on this information, only the top three draft picks by the Steelers in 2021 will land in the top 51 at this time. Because of this, the amount the Steelers draft class will change the Steelers current salary cap situation is as follows:
First 3 draft picks salaries: $4,354,804
Bottom 3 salaries displaced: $2,366,376
Difference (amount against the cap): $1,988,428
Additionally, the likelihood of any undrafted free agent cracking the top 51 is basically zero. While the Steelers are free to pay these players whatever they negotiate, do you see them paying a player that goes undrafted more than they did their own fourth-round draft picks? I don’t either, so I feel it’s safe to say the signings won’t affect the salary cap until the season rolls around.
With this said, the Steelers should still have around $9 million in salary cap space following the signing of the draft picks. While it’s nice to have some space to continue to do business, the Steelers will also need additional salary cap money come September. I explain the other costs in the following way in my salary cap updates:
Also, the Steelers will need as much as an additional $10 million (a very high estimate, with $7 million coming in on the low end) come September when they need to account for all 53 players on the roster, sign their practice squad, and have some carryover in order to do business throughout the year.
With some the Steelers draft choices not falling in the top 51, and with players who were on the roster last season also not above the cutoff, if these players make the team over players who are currently in the top 51 salaries, the difference in their salaries will act as cap savings come September when the Steelers trim down their roster to 53 players. Of course, there will also be two additional salaries which will have to be taken into account.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 salary cap is an ever-changing thing. There are ways that the Steelers have worked around it, and there are still some contract moves they could make to free up some cap space if absolutely needed. But having an entire draft class add less than $2 million to the salary cap during the offseason is quite helpful in the only year the salary cap has gone down across the NFL.