The Pittsburgh Steelers front office is up to something, but time will tell what exactly "it" is.
The team recently restructured the contracts both Marcus Gilbert and Mike Mitchell, moves which freed up some money, as the Steelers currently sit $8 million under the projected cap, according to Scott Brown of ESPN.
Pro Bowl C Maurkice Pouncey is reportedly in the process of restructuring his contract, a deal which will likely convert much of his salary into a signing bonus, which can shrink his $8.1 million cap hit in 2015. Ben Roethlisberger, whose ongoing contract negotiations are one of the major story-lines of the offseason, will likely provide the team some immediate breathing room as well, as his $18 million cap number will reduce once an extension is worked out.
Cam Thomas is a possible cut candidate, a move which would free up another $1.5 in cap room while Brett Keisel's two-year deal last season was basically a one-year deal with a second-year option, an option the Steelers could "decline" and save $1.5 million.
The largest source of potential money, albeit the most heartbreaking, would result from the release of S Troy Polamalu, whose $6 million cap number is hard to justify given his play last season. In fact, Brown posits Polamalu would have to accept a "significant" pay cut if he were to remain in Pittsburgh.
Either way, the Steelers appear headed for less treacherous salary cap waters. Pittsburgh has been well-aware of it's cap woes the previous two seasons, as the Steelers cap situation ranked among the worst in the league, but the creation of some excess capital provides the franchise with some much-needed breathing room.
Of course, the inevitable extension Roethlisberger receives is a great excuse for some extra cap room, but the immediate future of the Steelers could be impacted by money that's, more or less, sitting in escrow. An extension for free agent OLB Jason Worilds seems to be a logical conclusion as to the reasoning for the additional cap space, but the Steelers have already declared they will allow Worilds to test the open waters, and Kevin Colbert certainly isn't the type to get into a bidding war over a player.
The newly created cap space, however, could potentially signify the intention of the Steelers to pursue some higher-level free agents. While no one expects the team to sign Justin Houston or Ndamukong Suh, the talented crop of names who aren't in the "top tier" of free agents could entice the Steelers, who have multiple needs that could be served by veteran players. Obviously, the team will take a look at young talent in the draft, but after an 11-5 season, the Steelers realized (despite fears from fans) they weren't in "rebuilding mode", and some pundits even penciled in Pittsburgh as a trendy Super Bowl contender.
Perhaps the addition of veteran players in positions of need could springboard the Steelers into a Super Bowl berth, seeing as the team is in "win now" mode. The excess of funds created by the front office could signal a possible out of the ordinary level of aggressiveness in the free agent market; but either way, it seems as if Colbert and Co. have something up their sleeves.