With the Pittsburgh Steelers dealing with one of the best salary cap situations they’ve had in a long time this offseason, there hasn’t been much discussion about which players may become cap casualties when the new league year begins. While there are several players who can save the Steelers a significant amount of space under the salary cap, there are several players on the team which would cost more against the cap if they were cut, rather than to keep them for the season.
Over the next several days, we will take a look at which players fit into one of three categories:
- Those who it would cost more to move on from in 2022.
- Those whose dead money is about the same as what Steelers would save.
- Those who the Steelers would get the most savings, should they move on from them for the 2022 season.
The first group is players the Steelers can’t realistically move on from because of their contract. Of course, the Steelers would not want to move on from those on this list, and this is the category where the Steelers would want to see the best players on the team. Before we can move on and dive into the categories where the Steelers may want to make a decision, it’s better to clear the water of these players now. Most of these players on the list are ones where it would be laughable for the Steelers to move on, hence why they have the contract they do, but there is at least one who many in Steelers Nation have given up on following the 2021 season.
Here is a list of the six Steelers who would be more beneficial to stay on the roster than it would be to release them for the 2022 season, and how much more it would cost if they were not on the roster. Remember, this is strictly from a salary cap perspective and this is the group where these players fall. All figures listed are courtesy of overthecap.com and reflect if the player was a Pre-June 1 cut.
Clearing the field with the most obvious player, seeing T.J. Watt first of this list is how it should be. The Steelers moved outside of how they normally structure contracts when giving Watt his mega-deal last offseason which had a large signing bonus and more guaranteed money than the Steelers have done before. For that reason, Watt lands as the top player in this category which is exactly where everyone wants him to be. T.J. Watt is going nowhere, and the Steelers don’t want him going anywhere. All is right with the world.
This is how first-round rookie contracts end up in the NFL, and is why it is so important the teams can’t have an absolute miss. I’m not sure why any franchise would want to move on from their first-round pick after just one season, and perhaps that’s why the contracts are structured in a way where it would cost to Steelers almost $8 million more if they released their first-round pick. Luckily for the Steelers, Najee Harris is not a player they regret selecting in the 2021 draft.
With three more years remaining in his contract, 2022 is the turning point for Cam Heyward where he would be owed more than what it would save the Steelers should both sides decide to move on. But based on Heyward‘s All-Pro performance in 2021, why would they?
With everything that was said above about Najee Harris, it is the same, but to a smaller degree, with Pat Freiermuth. Being a second-round pick, the NFL also has the contract structured in a way to where a team would not even want to move on from a player and have to count almost an additional $1 million dollars against the salary cap. Much like Harris, it’s a good thing the Steelers made the most out of their second-round draft pick in 2021 as Freiermuth appears to be an offensive weapon and hopefully improving even more in the years to come.
Landing in this category in 2021, Minkah Fitzpatrick finds himself yet again in a scenario where the Steelers will owe him every penny in 2022 regardless of his roster status. This time, it comes courtesy of the NFL fifth-year option which the Steelers exercised last offseason. While this is currently the case, many Steelers fans would like to see Fitzpatrick move up this list with a long-term deal keeping him in Pittsburgh for years to come.
After outlining possibly the best five players for the Steelers, depending on who is making the case, the final player on the list is one some Steelers fans think should be shown the door. Yes, Devin Bush had a down 2021 season. Yes, the Steelers have a big question going forward as to whether or not they will exercise his fifth-year option for approximately $10.5 million. But as for 2022, Bush‘s contract is fully guaranteed and he will count the same against the salary cap whether he’s on the Steelers or he is not, outside of a trade. So if you are someone who wants to see Bush not landing on the 53-man roster, you are set to be disappointed.
So these are the six players where it would not benefit the Steelers salary cap by releasing them prior to June 1. Seeing this category with some of the best players on the team is exactly what is best for everyone, and having more players entering this group based on new long-term deals would be a good thing. Now that we have cleared up this grouping of players, we can get into the more interesting situations.
Stay tuned to BTSC for upcoming articles on players whose dead money outweighs their savings as well as players who give the most cap savings versus the dead money hit.