Cap Space Not The Reason Steelers Shying Away From Free Agent Market

The Pittsburgh Steelers, according to team president Art Rooney II, the team may already be done rebuilding the team via free agency, at least in terms of adding significant pieces beyond mere depth via one-year veteran-minimum qualifying contracts.

After all, though the team did add a couple of multi-million deals last season, the majority of the free agents that they signed a year ago were of that variety, and two of them became among their most significant players on defense at various points in the season.

Last year, however, was different. They did what little they could with the available space that they had. Despite what same might think, the Steelers do have the salary cap space and the additional moves to create more to sign a player that they coveted—for the right price.

And that last part has been the stickler, as anybody who has followed the free agent market this offseason should be aware, with quite middling talent in other years being given near-premium salaries.

This free agent class, in truth, has not been as deep, nor as rich in talent, as have been others in years past, but there has still been in influx in spending due to the fact that the salary cap has increased by $20 million over the course of the past two seasons.

Of course, this is the very reason that the Steelers have any cap space at all, but it also explains why second-tier free agents are suddenly becoming unaffordable—or at least less than cost-effective.

When factoring in the moves that the Steelers have already made this offseason, from releasing Brett Keisel to extending Ben Roethlisberger’s contract to Kelvin Beachum being awarded a performance bonus, the team is over $7 million under the salary cap right now.

That is already easily more than enough than is necessary to sign their draft class and have an in-season surplus, neither of which need to be worried about in March. After all, making Troy Polamalu a post-June 1 cut would give them another $6 million in cap space.

Whatever ends up happening with Polamalu, the Steelers will gain a few million either way, no doubt, even if they elect to keep him on the roster while demanding a pay cut. He currently is on the books for a base salary of $6 million.

Other moves that could be made in the event of an actual reason to spend include releasing Cam Thomas or working out long-term contracts for their tendered restricted free agents. None of these moves, except a post-June 1 release for Polamalu, push dead money into the future.

In other words, the reason the Steelers haven’t made much of a splash in free agency is not, as some have suggested, that they cannot. They could have, and can, if they wanted to.

But the market is currently inflated and the available products are not worth their asking price. While we may see a few late signings of the veteran-minimum minimum variety, I frankly can’t hold it against the front office, in hindsight, for keeping their purse strings tied when it comes to outside free agents.

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