The Pessimist’s Take – Spending The Future

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 pessimistic side of the coin.

Question: Despite a better overall cap situation, should the Steelers continue to restructure to attack free agency?

The Steelers front office has relied on pushing money into the future in order to spend now for the past several seasons, ever since they faced an uncapped year when the Collective Bargaining Agreement was not in effect.

The thought process was that the rise in the salary cap would eventually keep up with the money being pushed ahead. More importantly, having at their disposal a franchise quarterback meant that their championship window was wide open, and thus that meant spending now.

This is a point that needs to be emphasized when it comes to evaluating this tactic, as the seeming fiscal irresponsibility of borrowing from the future to profit now is largely predicated on the idea that the money could be used in the present to win.

Otherwise there’s no immediate incentive to do so. So because the Steelers feel, and have felt, that they are right in the middle of a championship window, they have not hesitated to walk the salary cap tightrope.

Last year, the salary cap rise finally began to catch up with the front office’s financial finagling, which meant that they had a bit of money to spend in free agency. With predictable extensions and releases, the Steelers will have money to spend again.

If they really want to have some walking around money, however, they may have to resort to their old ways, including restricting high-dollar base salary contracts, or possibly offering extensions. The key players here would be, of course, Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons.

But will there be any big justification for doing so? Will they even find themselves in a position to bring in a marquee, difference-making type of free agent that would justify continuing to push more money into the future? Not only is it not typically the Steelers way, it just doesn’t seem very likely they’ll find themselves in such a position, and adding a poor free agency move won’t help keep that championship window open.

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