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Four players who have earned new contracts with the Steelers before the 2016 season begins

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Is Markus Wheaton deserving of a new contract before the 2016 season kicks off? We give you 4 players the Steelers need to negotiate with before the 2016 season begins.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

In my previous article, here, I explained how the 2016 draft class was going to affect the Pittsburgh Steelers salary cap. The NFL salary cap is by far one of the most complicated aspects of the NFL offseason game. Contract extensions, contract reworks, releasing players, rookie signings and free agent signings all impact the flexibility of Pittburgh's cap situation -- not only for this year, but in years to come.

Physicist Stephen Hawking declined to undertake anything NFL cap-related and stated, "Quantum mechanics is child's play compared to the NFL salary cap spider web." I am no Stephen Hawking; however, I find dealing with most contracts to be quite straight forward. I’ll take a theoretical crack at re-doing four contracts that I really do believe need to be in place before the season starts. (As many of you know, the Steelers rarely deal with contracts once the season starts.)

The Steelers are in solid shape, cap-wise, for 2017. They’re projected to be $55 million under the cap. GM Kevin Colbert, love him or hate him, has done a solid job of managing cap space. The biggest issue Pittsburgh faces is that there are a number of very valuable pieces to their puzzle that are not under contract in 2017.

First on the list: Lawrence Timmons

He has been a stalwart of the Steelers' defense since 2007 but is entering a contract year with a mammoth $15.1 million cap number. Some fans have wanted to cut ties with the defensive leader to free up cap space this season. I, for one, am ecstatic that this did not happen. I would rather see a contract extension. I just don't think Pittsburgh's cap situation is dire enough to have to take such a drastic measure. Timmons re-negotiated his contract early in September 2015, and most of that savings is actually carried over to this season since it was not spent last year. As this is a contract year, I fully expect an extension for Timmons to be finalized before the start of the season. The contract should be in the neighborhood of four years with average base salaries of $6 million per year along with a signing bonus of $4 million. Timmons is due $6,381,250 in bonus money this season. This remaining bonus will still be paid in 2016.

Below is how I would like to see his contract structured.

Year

Salary

Bonus

2016

$1.5M

$7,381,250

2017

$6M

$1,000,000

2018

$8M

$1,000,000

2019

$8.5M

$1,000,000

Cap savings for 2016: $6,250,000

Second on the list: RG David DeCastro

DeCastro was extended his fifth-year option for 2016, a cap hit of just over $8 million. It is likely the Steelers will make every effort to offer him a long-term contract to keep him in the black and gold for years to come. RG is generally not a highly paid position, but DeCastro is worth a large investment. The former first-rounder could easily be seeking a big extension. A deal that I would like to see in place before Week 1 would be a five-year, $35 million* contract that includes an $8 million signing bonus. The contract would make him the second-highest-paid RG in the league. Is he worth it? I am sure the answer from the Pittsburgh's front office will be a resounding 'yes'.

Below is how I would like to see his contract structured.

Year

Salary

Bonus

2016

$2M

$1.6M

2017

$4M

$1.6M

2018

$5M

$1.6M

2019

$7M

$1.6M

2020

$8M

$1.6M

Cap savings for 2016: $4,470,000

*Changed

It is tough to gauge the worth of the third player on my list: Le’Veon Bell

The Pittsburgh starting RB missed the first three games of his rookie season in 2013 due to a foot injury. Exploding in 2014, Bell showcased his ability not only in the running game, but in the passing game. Unfortunately, he took a mighty shot to the right knee in the season finale, forcing him to miss the playoffs. The following year he was suspended for the first two games of 2015 due to off-field issues that landed him in the NFL substance abuse program. Coming off of his suspension, Bell was running on all cylinders. He took a vicious shot to his right knee, once again against the hated Bengals. The injury cost him the rest of the regular season and postseason.

There is zero doubt that Bell could be labeled the best running back in the NFL when he is on the field. Personally, I see the three injuries that have cost him time as flukes. They were not due to poor conditioning, nor should they be viewed as sources of long-term concern. That said, I would not be shocked to see the Steelers try to low-ball Bell into a prove-it short term contract.

Let's say Bell is reasonable and a deal is struck that both sides deem fair, maybe a deal in the range of $26 million over four years with $8 million in total bonuses. (Bell is due $344,200 this season from the initial signing bonus.)

Below is how I would like to see his contract structured.

Year

Salary

Bonus

Roster bonus

2016

$1M

$750k

$1,344,200

2017

$6M

$750k

$1M

2018

$6M

$750k

$1M

2019

$6M

$750k

$1M

Cap increase for 2016: $2,782,900

The last player on my list: Markus Wheaton

Wheaton is entering his last season under his rookie contract. Poised to continue his steady progression as an impact player, Wheaton also could be on the verge of stardom in the high-octane Steeler offense. The one-year suspension of Martavis Bryant opens the door for what could become a big payday for the former third-round pick if he is allowed to hit the open market. This is where I expect to be stepping on some toes. I think Pittsburgh has to believe that Bryant will not don the black and gold again, instead joining Josh Gordon and Justin Blackmon in NFL suspension purgatory. Sammie Coates and his Darrius Heyward-Bey's hands are best suited to third or fourth WR roles. So, it’s time to open up that checkbook and give Wheaton an extension of four years at a cost of $24 million with a $5 million signing bonus. (Wheaton is due $147,844 in bonus money this season that is factored in.)

Below is how I would like to see his contract structured.

Year

Salary

Bonus

2016

$2

$1,397,844

2017

$5

$1.25M

2018

$7

$1.25M

2019

$7

$1.25M

Cap increase for 2016: $1,579,000

Most in Steeler Nation would be more than happy to have these four locked down entering the prime of their careers. True, it's not chump change the Steelers would be handing out here, but the contracts would be back-end-loaded to protect the Steelers. And sorry, Antonio Brown, you'll just have to be content for one more year with your eighth-highest WR salary of $12,370,833. The black and gold will get to you next year and make you the highest paid WR in the game.

Nerd Factoid just for you: Fantasy Football's roots started with Wilfred Winkenbach, a limited owner of the Oakland Raiders, in 1962. After over 50 years, the league still exists.