The camp battle for the Pittsburgh Steelers kicking job is a few months away, but the battle over what should be done has already started. Many fans see Shaun Suisham's salary and think it is simply too much to pay for a 34-year-old kicker. While the Black and Gold made a poor trade for Josh Scobee in 2015, young Chris Boswell came in and was more than solid.
The camp battle could possibly be over before it even gets underway though, to alleviate salary cap space. It is not that easy though, because of how the NFL deals with contracts. This process can actually be quite complicated, but in reality is quite simplistic.
4 options are available for the Steelers:
1. Keep Suisham and give him the nod after an ACL tear, derailed his 2015 season.
2. Cut him outright with a June 1 camp with Chris Boswell.
3. Trade him in hopes of getting at least some compensation for him. First thing you need to remember when dealing with a player who leaves the roster in one way or another, is that he is replaced with another. Before the start of the 2014 season Suisham was given a well deserved contract extension. He turned into one of the most reliable kickers in the league since joining the Steelers in 2010.
His extension was a nice chunk of change too, $12.575 million with a $2.85 million signing bonus. After his ACL tear in early August 2015, he renegotiated his contract to free up cap space and took the difference in the form of a bonus. Freeing up space for 2015 is great, but that money gets averaged into 2016, 2017 and 2018. More then doubling his expected bonuses for those seasons. Keep the kicker who has won many games in the past 6 seasons, would cost us $3,503,000 cap space, each year for the next 3 seasons.
4. Release Suisham with a June 1 designation, but we would still be on the hook for all of his bonus that remains. As a post June 1 release Pittsburgh would pay the bonus he was due this season, $1,103,000. $2,206,000 would be dead money in 2017. This would save $2.4 million for 2016, almost what we are shy of for signing our rookie class.
Flat out cutting him at anytime before the season starts accelerates all that bonus money into 2016, but the Steelers would not have to fork out his salary as long as it done before Week 1 when it becomes guaranteed. This way would save the Steelers $194,000 plus his 2016 salary.
I have seen a lot of people say, "Let's just trade him away and get a 6th or 7th round pick and get him off the books with that salary and bonus." Here is where the screeching happens when the train comes to a lurching halt. I am all for getting compensation for a player that could possibly be released anyway. As the bonuses have already been doled out, that money now gets posted for 2016. So for cap purposes, the cap hit is the same as if we flat out cut Suisham.
Not such a sparkling solution after all.
Whichever direction the Steelers look to go, one thing is fairly certain. Pittsburgh should have one heck of a kicker, no matter how you slice it, in 2016. Just keep in mind one thing though. While above you will see that we would save $2.4 million, that is not truly the case, as Boswell currently does not count in the top 51 players. If the team went with Boswell, his $525,000 salary would eat into that $2.4 million cap savings.
The answer to the Suisham quandary might seem easy, but is far from it.