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How the Steelers can manipulate the salary cap to free up $40 million in cap space

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently in salary-cap hell, but they don’t have to stay there if they make some moves with their current roster.

Divisional Round - Jacksonville Jaguars v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

I have always been fascinated with magicians and the illusions they pull off right in front of your eyes. How did David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear on live TV? How did he let himself get sawed in half by a giant rotating blade in front of a live audience? I was on stage once with a magician who poured milk into a funnel that was tucked into the waistband of my pants, and I never had a drop soak the front of me (I was so relieved about not looking like I had wet my pants in front of 500 people).

I never learned the art of illusion or card tricks, but what I have learned is how to pull $40 million of cap-space out of thin air, which is something that has to happen soon. How else are the Pittsburgh Steelers supposed to franchise tag Le’Veon Bell, and have enough cap-space to fill holes on the team while also signing those draft picks in April?

In my previous article, I showed the condition of the Steelers’ cap situation.

I stroll out on stage in jeans and T-shirt with a top hat on so you know I will not be hiding millions of dollars up my sleeves or tucked behind a cape.

For my first trick, I’ll make players disappear from the Black-and-gold roster. I toss five contracts into the air and the contracts miraculously turn into doves and fly away, leaving those players never to be seen in black-and-gold uniforms again.

J.J. Wilcox: $3.125 million

William Gay: $1.75 million

Coty Sensabaugh: $1.4 million

Darrius Heyward-Bey: $1.2 million

Mike Mitchell: $5 million

Robert Golden: $1.475 million

Cap savings: $13,950,000

I take my felt top-hat off my head and show the audience that there’s nothing in it. Waving my magic wand over the top of it, I loudly yell, “ABRACADABRA!”. A puff of smoke erupts out of the hat, and I produce the contracts for Joe Haden and Vance McDonald. I toss both of the contracts into the air and declare, “Restructure or be gone!” The two contracts mysteriously catch fire and end up floating to the stage as ashes.

Haden and McDonald are just not worth their big salaries in 2018 and have to restructure to remain with the Steelers. Haden’s ranking by Pro Football Focus as the #51 CB in the NFL for 2017 is unimpressive. McDonald was disappointed with his 14 receptions while dropping three more in only 24 targets.

  • Haden’s reworked contract

The former Cleveland Brown’s base salary of $9 million is just too high. I will slice $6 million off that, convert $2 million of it into a signing bonus, and take another $2 million of it and stash it as a roster bonus in 2019. This pushes his cap hit to $15 million in 2018, which is a contract year. That figure can easily be dropped with an extension if he is deserving of one.

Cap savings: $5 million

  • McDonald’s contract

McDonald had solid production in the last few games of 2017, but as a whole, it was a wasted season for him. The former San Francisco 49er has tremendous upside, but has to show that he is a reliable tight end to receive the money he is set to make. McDonald would be asked to take a $3 million salary reduction and have $2 million of that turned into a 2019 roster bonus.

Cap savings: $3 million

I hope I have you sitting on the edges of your seats, with curiosity burning in your eyes while puzzled looks cross your faces as you contemplate how I intend to shave off another $18million of cap space. Unlike David Copperfield’s famous illusion at Caesar’s Palace in which he himself was cut in half with a massive saw, I will cut more than half from players contracts in 2018. That money will reappear in future years.

  • Cam Heyward’s current deal pays him $9 million base salary, but I will turn $8 million of that into a signing bonus.

Cap savings of $5.33 million.

  • Maurkice Pouncey is the next one up on the magical saw blade platform. His $7 million base salary gets $6 million lopped off of it and converted into a signing bonus.

Cap savings of $3 million.

  • Three-time Pro Bowler David Decastro is the second to last participant on the stage. My blade slices through his contract and reduces his $3.79 million base salary by $3 million, which is turned into a signing bonus.

Cap savings of $2.1 million.

  • For the grand finale, I will make Ben Roethlisberger’s contract disappear. I place his contract into a safe, secured by 20 locks and chains and drop it into a clear glass chamber that is filled with 500 piranhas. After 10 minutes I pull the chest out and open it up. Have no fear, Ben is still here. The contract that was set to expire in 2019 has morphed into one that does not expire until after 2021. Ben’s base salary has transformed from $12 million down to $1 million and converted into a signing bonus. I also convert his $5 million 2018 roster bonus into a signing bonus. For this service, I will hand him another $14 million in new signing bonus money which is prorated while removing his $5 million roster bonus in 2019. I give that bonus back to him in 2021.

Cap savings of $8.5 million.

Total cap savings: $40,850,000

GM Kevin Colbert has been magically manipulating the Steelers’ salary cap for years. Shuffling money from year to year is an art form he has perfected. With Pitt over the cap by $4 million, will he be able to pull off the same prestidigitation as I did?

Which moves do you agree with and disagree with? Let us know in the comment section below!