An unnamed player's agent told Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly he's unclear on why the Steelers are clearing up cap space now, less than two weeks before the start of free agency.
"My question is, why are they clearing so much cap space now," the source said, according to Kaboly.
It seems unlikely the team restructured the contracts of Marcus Gilbert and Mike Mitchell, and will confirm a restructured contract of Maurkice Pouncey this week, because they felt the need to give the players cash to fuel their offseason's activities.
One might argue they did it in order to get above the spending floor as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement. The Steelers were one of 10 teams on pace to finish next season below the required 89 percent cap spending threshold. If that was the reason, it would suggest the team isn't expecting to sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to an extension before the start of the league year.
That seems thin.
Kaboly's article hints at the possibility of the team preparing to make a splash in free agency. As he noted, the Steelers will have more cap space heading into free agency than they've had "in recent memory." That's a fair suggestion, especially considering the restructures came before the release of any player, which are expected to happen before free agency.
Wide receiver Lance Moore is assured of a release, which will shave another $1.5 million off the cap. A decision will likely be made between Brett Keisel ($1.75 million saved, $250,000 dead) and Cam Thomas ($2 million saved, $500,000 dead). The Steelers wouldn't save much by releasing Troy Polamalu before June 1, but a post-June 1 release (the player's contract is terminated immediately, leaving him free to sign elsewhere, but the salary is held against the cap until June 2), $6 million would be lifted off the cap in time to sign draft picks.
Typically, and by general manager's usual statement each offseason, the Steelers will sign their own pending free agents first. That list includes outside linebacker Jason Worilds, who reportedly will not be signed before free agency begins. He may still return, but it doesn't seem likely, considering the need for experienced pass rushers across the league.
Arthur Moats, Brice McCain and Matt Spaeth are likely to be offered new contracts, given the Steelers' lack of depth at their respective positions. After those moves, even if the top cut candidates are released, it doesn't seem like the Steelers would have enough space available to make a big signing.
It doesn't have to be a signing of massive proportions, though. They signed Mitchell to a five-year, $25 million deal on the first day of free agency last year. If they see a player of that variety available - typically young and experienced players are their targets - they may make a move.
Expect the Steelers to release a few players this week and perhaps sign a few others. The cuts can probably be predicted, but the signings may hold with them more intrigue.