On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Steelers released a statement from Stephon Tuitt announcing his retirement from the NFL. While some Steelers fans were quite surprised, others saw the possibility months ago.
The fact the announcement came on June 1 is by no coincidence. When looking at player’s salary and the salary cap implications, June 1 is a very important date. When a player is released or retires from the NFL prior to June 1, all the remaining dead money from their salary comes due for the upcoming season. But after June 1, only the dead money that was due in that season is counted against the salary cap and the dead money from additional years is all counted in the following year’s salary cap.
Because June 1 used to bring another wave of players hitting free agency as teams waited in order to manage their salary cap, the NFL came up with a system more than a decade ago where teams could choose up to two players they released prior to June 1 as having a post-June 1 designation. What this meant was additional money would come due towards the salary cap once June 1 arrived at the player would be able to enter free agency at the time of their release. This practice is still used in the NFL today with a number of players being released this offseason and carrying a post-June 1 designation.
Not only does a post-June 1 designation come into play when releasing a player, it also comes into play if the player is traded. When the Steelers traded Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders following the 2018 NFL season, they had the option to designate Brown with a post-June 1 status. Instead, the Steelers decided to take all the dead money in that single season in order to get Brown’s contract completely off the books.
So while NFL teams can designate up to two people as a post-June 1 designation via release or trade, it does not work if a player retires. During the 2021 offseason, quarterback Drew Brees held off his retirement officially until June in order for the New Orleans Saints to spread his $23 million dead money cap hit into two different seasons.
Now that we have a more thorough explanation as to the significance of June 1 in the NFL year, how does this affect the salary cap when it comes to Stephon Tuitt? First, let’s look at what the rest of Tuitt’s contract looked like prior to his retirement according to overthecap.com:
$9,048,560 base salary
$4,925,750 prorated bonus
$13,975,750 cap hit
2023 to 2025:
$0 base salary (void years)
$1,585,000 prorated bonus (each year)
$4,755,000 cap hit (all in 2023)
The first thing that stands out from Tuitt’s contract now that he is retired is the more than $9 million he was due in base salary this season which he will no longer receive. Had Stephon Tuitt retired two months ago, all of the money from his prorated bonuses would have come due this year and he would have had a dead money hit of $9,680,750. With this amount, the Steelers would’ve had a salary cap savings of $4,295,000.
While reducing the salary cap by more than $4 million seems appealing, with Stephon Tuitt announcing his retirement after June 1 it means that only the $4,925,750 in his 2022 prorated bonus will count this season. For that reason, Tuitt will now save the Steelers $9,050,000 against the salary cap before factoring in roster displacement. After displacement, the savings will be a little more than $8 million.
Although it always seems better to have more salary cap savings, this now means that the $4,755,000 where Tuitt was going to count in dead money in 2023 will still stay in place for that year. If Tuitt had played in 2022 and did not sign a new contract, this is the amount of dead money the Steelers would have had due to the void years added to his contract last season when it was restructured. So, if the Steelers were taking into account this money in 2023 already, it doesn’t really change anything for them heading into next offseason.
One thing to remember is that all the money Stephon Tuitt is going to count against the salary cap for the Pittsburgh Steelers is not anything he has yet to be paid. Tuitt has already collected these paychecks. But as teams often do with the salary cap, this is simply accounting for the money at a later time which he already received.
The biggest sting when it comes to Stephon Tuitt’s contract is the fact he will have counted for a total of more than $18 million towards the salary cap spread over three seasons from 2021 to 2023 in which he never appeared in a game for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While less than half of that amount of $9 million was paid to Tuitt last season, the remaining $9.2815 million comes in the form of dead money.
For those looking for how much salary cap space the Steelers have after the retirement a Stephon Tuitt, that number will come in at over $20.5 million assuming there are no other surprises in the process. Once to his contract officially comes off the books, look for a salary cap update here at Behind The Steel Curtain.
For more on the salary cap implications of Stephon Tuitt’s retirement, check out the latest episode of the Steelers Stat Geek podcast: