What happens today?
At 4 p.m., the league begins its year, and all players without contracts in 2015 are free to sign with other teams.
But didn't like 200 of them do that already?
The NFL sent a memo to all 32 teams reminding them the negotiation period (the three days leading into the start of the league year) is meant to give all teams an opportunity to reach out to pending free agents, and contracts and terms are not meant to be agreed upon, or even discussed.
So why are there reports of so many contracts being agreed upon?
Because the NFL is trying to control something it ultimately cannot. They can send memos to teams all they want, agents are likely the ones leaking this information. They know they can get a huge amount of media attention for letting certain members know about what their client is doing. It also helps leverage an offer that hasn't been signed against other teams.
Why did the Steelers announce the signings of two pending free agents a day before free agency started, then?
Arthur Moats and Matt Spaeth were both under contract with the Steelers last year, and teams are allowed to sign their own pending free agents whenever they want. Also, players who are released are free to sign immediately.
Brice McCain is a pending free agent, why haven't the Steelers signed him yet?
Excellent question. Feeling nervous? Perhaps you should. Without being privy to specific details (and it appears the Steelers are one of the few teams in the NFL following both the letter and the spirit of the negotiation period. No news from them is out anywhere as of Tuesday morning), my guess would be McCain is in a similar position as Jason Worilds.
It's plausible the two sides exchanged dollar amounts and the Steelers will let him enter free agency with the door still open for his return. Maybe he will, maybe he won't, but what's compelling here is the fact Antwon Blake's market value doesn't seem to be the $1.5 million he'll pull in with his restricted free agency tender amount. They paid McCain significantly less than that last year. Seems like insurance to me.
McCain may sign Tuesday before the deadline, though. Like everything involving free agency, though, let's wait and see how things shake out.
So what about Jason Worilds? Where's he going?
Judging by initial reports (which may be trumped up a bit), the market for outside linebackers is pretty hot. It would suggest Worilds may be in line for something around $7 million a year. The Steelers wouldn't sign him for that, and they don't have the space to sign him for much of anything, actually. The somewhat unexpected retention of the team's three restricted free agents (Robert Golden, Will Johnson and Blake) ate up a big chunk of their cap space, and appear poised - barring any other move - to head into free agency pretty much set in terms of salary.
From their vantage point, they just tacked on $1.43 million to the cap for Moats, and Worilds' departure at $7 million a year would likely bring back a fourth round compensatory pick in 2016. It seems reasonable to think they feel Moats and that fourth round pick are worth more than Worilds at $7 million this year and beyond.
So the Steelers won't make any moves today?
It seems unlikely. Yes, you may have read the same thing in this space last year before they signed Mike Mitchell on the first day of free agency. Looking at their cap situation now, it would seem that's more of the exception than the rule. I wouldn't expect it, but I do expect Worilds to sign elsewhere quickly into free agency.
And signing free agents isn't the only thing the Steelers can do today. Their top 51 contracts must be under their $144 million salary cap by 4 p.m. ET. They're under that as of Tuesday morning, but you never know what other moves might be made.
If they're up against the cap, why don't they just release Troy Polamalu and get it over with?
Yes, like that move, for example. Polamalu is either going to announce his retirement or the team will announce his release. I'd say that's as close to a certainty as there is in this business. If he retires, the team clears $3.75 million in cap space. If he's cut, it's most likely a post-June 1 release, which will clear $6 million on the cap as of June 2 (enough to sign the draft class, but it's room that cannot be used now) and put $2.25 million in dead money in 2015 and 2016.
In other words, Polamalu's release would bring the most return for the least amount of cap strain by becoming a post-June 1 cut. That won't change the Steelers' cap situation until June 2.
Can't they free up cap space by giving Ben Roethlisberger an extension?
They can free up a little bit, depending on how the deal is structured, but Ben, a 32-year-old father of two, isn't likely to take a team-friendly deal as he enters the final year of his contract. Plus, he still has $6.9 million in deferred bonus money that needs to be counted on the cap. Add in the $11 million and change he's already owed in salary for 2015, and his stance really won't be to budge a whole lot on what he's already set to make.
Creative capologists can probably find a way to reduce his $18.3 million cap number, but Ben himself is really the only one who's able to reduce it much more than maybe $1.5 million - and it could be increased as well.