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The Steelers’ difficult decisions on aging veterans goes beyond the playing field

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A players true value can’t be measured by statistics or on the field performance alone.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers desperately need to clear up some salary cap space. The good news is the Steelers’ front office is quite familiar with the situation. It happens to be a yearly occurrence for a team filled with superstar players. You have a roster built around the Killer B’s and other Pro Bowl level players scattered throughout the lineup.

One simple truth always stands out: it costs money to ride the train.

Big time players demand big time salaries. The Steelers organization has had a reputation for a long time of being ultra conservative, refusing to overpay for talent which could damage the team’s chances to remain competitive moving forward. While parts of their reputation might carry some validity, the Steelers front office have proven to be one of the best in the league at managing the salary cap.

First, let me say that Omar Khan is a wizard. I believe he may have had a cameo in one of the Harry Potter movies. He is a magician when it comes to crunching numbers, all the while adhering to league rules and mandates. He works each offseason approaching certain players about a contract restructure. This really isn’t some great sacrifice for the player. It simply takes part of that years cap hit and converts it into a signing bonus. The player doesn’t have to wait to get paid, kind of like J.G. Wentworth “It’s my money and I need it now!” commercials. Everyone wins as the team clears valuable cap space to sign players.

Some players are asked to restructure their contract because their performance the previous year didn’t measure up to their yearly salary. This situation can prove tedious to say the least, and often leads to a player being released due to their salary cap hit. Please see Mike Mitchell as Exhibit No. 1.

Another option is to release a higher priced veteran player and replace him with a younger, cheaper player. This has become a standard form of operation during the salary cap era. Rosters are scattered with late round draft picks and UDFA playing for the league minimum. A teams ability to identify and sign these individuals has become paramount to a team’s success.

This offseason the Steelers are facing all of these situations. Some of these decisions are more obvious than others. Should they sign Le’Veon Bell, franchise tag him again, or simply let him walk and use the money to strengthen other positions? I will not delve into that situation at the moment, as I believe it has been covered to near death. However, the team needs to decide soon what they are going to do as it impacts their approach to free agency, and the draft.

Lost in all this maneuvering are some long-time Steeler players like William Gay, Arthur Moats, and Darrius Heyward-Bey. Each player’s role on the team, and playing time, has diminished, but their value to the team may be more than meets the eye.

Each of these men are well respected in the locker room, and in the community. Moats has been nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award multiple times. Seems like anytime there is charitable work to be done, or a hospital to visit, these guys are there. These men are equal part coach, cheerleader, and role model for those blessed to make their acquaintance. William Gay is one of the leading advocates speaking out against domestic violence. In a world full of yes men, Heyward-Bey will reportedly tells it like it is, even to the stars on the team. When your superstar wideout has a temper tantrum on the sideline, who will be there to help calm him down? Or when your franchise quarterback has a particularly bad game and jokingly starts to question his own ability, who will help him achieve some perspective? Ideally, it shouldn’t be a member of the coaching staff, but often comes from a respected member of the roster.

That is a culture that has to be nourished.

That is how winning is done.

So, what value do you place on these gentlemen? How do you estimate their worth? I understand that it isn’t personal, it’s just business. William Gay’s play on the field has fallen off drastically which leaves the Steelers very little choice in the matter, but he will be missed more than some may think, and in ways that are hard to quantify. They all will be!