Over the course of the past couple of years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have undergone an uncommon amount of change, which could have been largely correlated with the fact that the team had finished 8-8 in consecutive seasons while failing to advance to the postseason.
In deference to general manager Kevin Colbert, the attitude used to approach the offseason in those years was that this was an 8-8 team and these were 8-8 players. It’s little surprise that a lot of things changed during those years.
But the Steelers are now coming off a season in which they finished with a record of 11-5, going 8-2 down the stretch and winning their last four games to claim their first AFC North title since the 2010 season. Correspondingly, we’ve seen a great deal less change.
For the past several seasons, ever since the uncapped year, the Steelers were forced into a position in which they essentially had to cut players of value in order to create salary cap space and become cap-compliant by the start of the league year.
As recently as last season, the Steelers had to cut ties with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, designating him a post-June cut in order to receive the extra cap boost for the 2014 that came along with it. Because of that, they are still eating $8.5 million in dead money charges for this year.
But, in contrast to recent years, the team did not have to resort to taking the drastic step of releasing anybody that they didn’t want to release. Brett Keisel, for example, was not let go because of his cap hit, but because his injury is such that his playing days are simply over. The two-year contract that he signed was most likely an accounting thing to begin with.
Of course, the Steelers did get some relief with the encouraged retirement of Troy Polamalu, but the fact that they didn’t outright release him, as they did with other players held in similar esteem such as Hines Ward, tells you that it wasn’t a cap issue, but rather a personnel issue and a desire to move on. They’ll take the cap space, but they didn’t need it.
Still, they have continued to restructure contracts, this year moving money around for the deals signed last season by Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Mitchell. The front office structures their contracts in such a manner that the ability to comfortably move money around in future years is a feature, however, as they have readily used this practice to massage the cap as needed over the years.
As it stands, the Steelers are in a relatively comfortable position with the salary cap, with the ability to work out a long-term extension between now and the start of the season with Cameron Heyward, and perhaps one other deal if it is warranted.
That’s not to say that they are now liberated from the self-imposed cap burdens that they have dealt with for the majority of this decade, but with the salary cap finally going up, and certain contracts and values coming off the books, they are set up better than they have been in recent years, and that’s certainly a nice change of pace.