While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.
No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.
With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.
In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.
Question: Despite a better overall cap situation, should the Steelers continue to restructure to attack free agency?
Ever since the lockout, the Steelers have found themselves over the cap prior to the start of every league year, which has initiated a cycle of releases, extensions, and restructures all designed to lower the cap hit for the upcoming season.
Up until 2014, the moves that the front office took were largely just to keep their heads above water, but they were able to dip a bit into the free agency pool a year ago, and even worked out some long-term extensions with what they hope to be key pieces of their team for the future.
A key element of that process has been to restructure contract by taking players with high base salaries in a given year, lowering that salary to the minimum, and moving the remainder to guaranteed money, which the player gets immediately, but for cap purposes is spread out over several years.
This season, the Steelers only have two truly significant options for restructures in Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons. The former has a base salary pending of $6 million, while Timmons is due for $7.5 million.
Because of past restructures, Brown’s cap hit is slated for nearly $10 million, whereas Timmons is on the books for in excess of $12.5 million. Maximum restructures of both contracts could clear close to $7 million off the books in cap space for 2015, which could go toward hitting the free agent market, including re-signing Jason Worilds.
This is the strategy that the Steelers have been banking on for half a decade, but they were stymied by an unpredictably flat cap. With the cap projected to continue to escalate, however, it seems that now would not be the time to end this practice, as it will finally be paying off.
There are other moves to be made, of course, that will reduce the salary cap—extending Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward, releasing Troy Polamalu, Lance Moore, Cam Thomas, and/or Brett Keisel—but in order to accommodate Art Rooney II’s wishes of adding players to the secondary, the contract restructures will likely still be a part of the plan.