Opening Day Could Still Be Revealing Even If Steelers Don’t Dive In Head First

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent their New League Year Eve doing a bit of internal renovation to make sure they have their house in order before the free agency period officially begins at 4 PM today, and with it comes new salary cap figures.

And even if they don’t make a splash at the opening bell, we should still learn some information about the direction the Steelers are leaning.

It’s difficult to pin down a specific value, but various accounts had the Steelers somewhere within the range of $2.75 and $3.4 million under the cap following earlier moves over the past two weeks.

The Steelers made two cap-saving moves yesterday, though one only indirectly affects their ability to shop in free agency.

More immediately, the Steelers reached an agreement with cornerback Ike Taylor to accept a dramatic pay cut in what appears to be the final year of his professional career. Taylor dropped his base salary from $7 million all the way down to $2.75 million, which equates to a $4.25 million relief in both real money and cap space.

Using conservative estimates of the cap space the Steelers had available coming into the day, that should place their cap figure at somewhere around $7 million under the cap limit. Over the Cap has the Steelers currently $3,434,434 under, so factoring in the savings from Taylor’s new deal would put them $7,684,434 under.

The Steelers are also reportedly set to release outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley tomorrow, but with a post-June 1 designation, meaning that, while he will be a free agent now, his financial life to the team will be as though he will be released in June. As a result, the Steelers will gain an additional $7,580,000 in cap space when June rolls around, which is of course unavailable for now.

In total, the Steelers have produced enough cap-saving maneuvers to get $15,264,434 under the cap by June, give or take half a million or so.

With the significant influx of late money in a few months, the money currently available can be safely spent now, but how will they use it?

The Steelers have been connected with several free agent cornerbacks over the past few days, suggesting their interest to pursue one. Most costly among them is Alterraun Verner, regarded by many as the best free agent cornerback on the market.

Frankly, the team is unlikely to go that big, given their available cap space and the number of holes on the roster. If the Steelers really wanted to go after Verner, they likely would have restructured the contract of Lawrence Timmons by now, unless they believe they are on the verge of a long-term contract with Jason Worilds, who added nearly $10 to their cap obligations with his transition tag.

There are more modestly priced cornerbacks hitting the market, and there are depth concerns elsewhere too, such as at safety and running back, which the Steelers might attack with outside free agents. If we learn of any scheduled visits tomorrow, these may be the three most likely positions targeted.

The Steelers may have the space to bring in a few outside free agents of moderate value, perhaps even a pair of starting-caliber players, but their top priority will likely be replenishing the roster through their own free agents.

Other than the cornerbacks, not much has surfaced of the Steelers’ plans in free agency, which is not altogether surprising. It’s worth keeping in mind that teams are not allowed to even negotiate a meeting with pending free agents until the deadline tomorrow.

Therefore, even if the Steelers are not big players on the opening day of the free agency period—which you can probably safely bet on—we should at least start to get a sense of what direction they might be headed in, as they have about a $7.5 million hole burning through their collective pockets, a rare occurrence in recent years.

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