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How much salary cap space do the Steelers really have at this time?

With more items to count against the cap come September, there is more to the Steelers’ salary cap than one number.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers photo: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There are several different ways Steelers fans can look at the current amount of money available under the 2021 NFL salary cap. While the Steelers could spend every dollar of their salary cap money at this time and not be in violation of the NFL rules, there are more expenses coming down the road. So how much do the Steelers really have to spend of their available salary cap space?

The first thing to look at is the exact number the Steelers have under the salary cap. Because there are several different resources to look at the number, I’ve been using an estimated total. In the most recent salary cap article I published after the signing of Trai Turner, I had the Steelers estimated cap space at $13.1 million.

One thing which should be coming in the next several weeks is the Steelers signing their final player remaining from the 2021 NFL draft in third-round draft pick Kendrick Green. But after roster displacement, Green should only add an additional $52,000 to the salary cap.

So could the Steelers go out and sign another player for $13 million in 2021 salary cap hit? Yes, they technically could. Should they do such a thing? Not if they don’t want to have to make other moves to save cap space prior to the start of the 2021 regular season.

The Steelers have other expenses they will need to use their salary cap space for come in the very beginning of September. What are those expenses and how much do they need? Here’s a breakdown of the most significant categories:


Practice Squad

It appears the NFL is going to stick with a 16-man practice squad much like they had in the 2020 season. If so, it’s expected teams will be allowed to have up to six veteran players on the squad along with 10 players who are the typical “practice squad eligible” type. Based on these numbers, here is how the expenses will go for the 2021 season. Note the Steelers would not have to have six veterans on the practice squad, but this would be the maximum amount they would need. Players are paid on a weekly basis, including the bye week.

Non-veteran players: $9,200 x 18 weeks x 10 players = $1,656,000
Veteran players: $14,000 x 18 weeks x 6 players = $1,512,000
TOTAL: $3,168,000

If the Steelers didn’t keep any veteran players on the practice squad, it would cost around $2.65 million for the season. But not knowing how they want this make up to be for 2021, it’s easier to just calculate for the maximum.


52nd & 53rd Players

During the NFL offseason, only the top 51 players count towards the salary cap. On August 31, NFL teams have to reduce the roster to 53 players by 4 PM. Once they do so, there will be two additional players that will count towards the salary cap.

Exactly how much these players count depends on their contracts. There are three different possibilities listed below including two minimum salary players, the two players who would currently be the 52nd and 53rd players, and the two lowest salaries who are likely to make the 53 man roster in the Steelers two seventh-round draft picks from 2021.

Minimum: $660,000 + $660,000 = $1,320,000
Current 52 & 53: $803,376 + $784,836 = $1,588,212
2021 7th-round picks: $680,183 + $683,610 = $1,363,793
Estimated amount needed: $1,400,000

I estimated about $1.4 million to make sure that these two spots are covered. This could be less as there are a number of players not in the top 51 who are very likely to make the roster. Every draft pick from the Steelers second fourth-round selection in 2021 and beyond are not in the top 51 salaries. Additionally, players such as Carlos Davis, James Pierre, Kevin Rader, Antoine Brooks, Henry Mondeaux, and J.C. Hassenauer are all outside the top 51. If these players make the roster, the difference in salary of those who are in the top 51 and are released will be a savings for the Steelers. With four quarterbacks and six running backs currently in the top 51 salaries, there will be some players who don’t make the final cut.

Even if the difference in salary is only $100,000, five different players landing on the roster and replacing those ahead of them would save half a million dollars. But this would become a luxury and not necessarily something the bank on.


Carryover

Although it’s classified as carryover into the next season, this money would go into the 2022 salary cap if it is not used in 2021. Personally, I think a better name for this category is “in-season expenses” as it’s basically money set aside to conduct business throughout the regular season and postseason.

In other words, when players get injured and go on the IR, their salary still counts towards the salary cap and the Steelers would need to replace that salary with another player. Money is needed to do that so this is a safe amount the Steelers would like to carry at the beginning of the 2021 season. Typically the amount is about $5 million.


There are some other amounts that could affect the grand total of what the Steelers actually currently spend, but they just aren’t known enough at this time. Already listing how changes in which exact players make the 53-man roster could save a little money, but it’s better to bank on the most expensive course of action. Additionally, the Steelers may not have spent the entire amount on offseason workouts as not every player attended each day. But this amount will not be overly significant towards the salary cap, much like the difference in salary once Kendrick Green is signed.

So here is the estimated grand total of the salary cap space the Steelers have available after taking into account their upcoming expenses:

Estimated Salary Cap Space: $13.1 million
Estimated Practice Squad: -$3.1 million
Estimated 52 & 53 salary: -$1.4 million
Estimated Carryover: -$5 million
Estimated Amount Available: $3.6 million

So with this amount of money, should Steelers be in the market to make a move? Should they be looking to sign another player or to have a little bit of wiggle room to offer extensions to some of their own?

How would you spend this money? Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments below.