Now that the Pittsburgh Steelers have had their late bye week, I have started to focus a little more on the team’s 2016 salary cap situation and that includes me going through each position group and detailing not only the players currently under contract for next season, but the players who will be free agents as well.
Last week, I broke down the Steelers quarterback position group with the focus being on the 2016 salary cap and today, I’ll be detailing the wide receiver position group for you.
Players Under Contract For 2016:
Antonio Brown – During the offseason, I’m sure we’ll be writing quite a bit about Brown and his 2016 contract. For starters, the Steelers top wide receiver is now scheduled to earn just $6.25 million in 2016 thanks to the team paying forward $2 million of next year’s salary to him prior to the start of the 2015 season. Now, you can probably bet that Brown isn’t going to be willing to play for $6.25 million in 2016, so the Steelers have quite a dilemma on their hands this coming offseason.
Prior to the start of the 2015 season, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert gave every indication that Brown would not receive an extension until he’s about to enter the final year of his current contract. If he holds true to his word, Brown will have to wait until 2017 to get a new deal. As I outlined recently, the only other way to appease Brown for the 2016 season, short of an extension, would be to again pay forward a good portion of his $8.71 million base salary that he’s scheduled to earn in 2017 as a signing bonus. However, that course of action would still likely leave Brown only earning just shy of $14 million in 2016. Additionally, in order to keep his 2016 cap charge from jumping up significantly, the Steelers would also need to restructure a good portion of his current 2016 base salary as a signing bonus.
Should the Steelers cave and give Brown an extension during the offseason, I would expect his new money average to come in north of $14 million. As of right now, I don’t have a good feeling as to which course of action the Steelers will ultimately choose with Brown, but I do expect Colbert to be asked about the wide receivers contract situation as soon as he starts making his rounds with the media ahead of the scouting combine. In other words, stay tuned.
Markus Wheaton – The situation with Wheaton is pretty cut and dry. For starters, while he will be entering the final year of his rookie contract during the offseason, he’s not going to receive an extension. With that said, his set to earn $695,000 in 2016 and his cap charge will be $842,844. Even though he’s had a very disappointing 2015 season, the Steelers aren’t going to release him during the offseason and it’s almost certain right now that he’ll be on the final 2016 53-man roster as the team’s No.3 or No. 4 wide receiver.
Martavis Bryant – Bryant will be entering his third year in 2016 and thus he won’t be able to be extended until 2017. He’s scheduled to earn $600,000 next season and his cap charge will be $709,805. Like Wheaton, there’s not much to discuss when it comes to Bryant. Assuming he stays on the straight and narrow from here on out, Bryant might be in line for an extension in 2017. However, depending on what ultimately happens with Brown, Bryant might not see a new contract until 2018 when he’s an unrestricted free agent and that new contract might just be with another team unless the Steelers use the franchise or transition tag on him. While it’s still a long way off, I won’t be surprised if Bryant is wearing a different uniform in 2018. In other words, we have plenty of time to worry about that.
Sammie Coates – Coates will only be a second-year player in 2016 so his situation is very cut and dry. He’s scheduled to earn a base salary of $525,000 next year and have a cap charge ion the amount of $682,879. The Steelers would obviously like to see him win the No. 3 wide receiver spot next year during training camp.
Jacoby Jones – Jones’ situation is cut and dry as well, but for other reasons. First, he currently has one foot out of the league as he’s merely a return specialist at this point in his career. Next, he scheduled to earn $3 million in 2016. The Steelers certainly aren’t going to pay him that, so expect him to be an early March cap causality at the latest. That move will instantly clear $3 million in salary cap space. He is merely a rental player this season.
Eli Rogers – You haven’t forgotten about Rogers, have you? The Louisville undrafted free agent was lost for the 2015 season during training camp because of a foot injury that has since been surgically repaired. The Steelers hope they have a diamond in the rough in Rogers but we won’t really know what his upside is until the 2016 preseason games get underway. He’s scheduled to earn $450,000 in 2016 with a cap charge of $451,666. If he needs to be released prior to the start of the 2016 season, his dead money charge will be a mere $1,666 next year and $1,668 in 2017. He’s currently under contract through the 2017 season.
Players Scheduled To Be Free Agents In 2016
Darrius Heyward-Bey – Heyward-Bey signed a one-year veteran qualifying contract with the Steelers in late March and that came with a reduced cap charge as part of the veteran minimum salary benefit. In short, his cap charge in 2015 was just $665,000. If Heyward-Bey is brought back during the offseason to compete for a roster spot in training camp, he’ll again need to sign another one-year veteran qualifying contract for the minimum. That very well could happen as he’s unlikely to have any suitors during the main portion of the free agent signing period. If he is re-signed, he’ll have a tough time making the 2016 53-man roster.
David Nelson – Nelson is currently on the Steelers Reserve/Injured list thanks to him injuring his shoulder during his first practice with the team after he was signed during the late stages of training camp. It’s hard to imagine that the Steelers will want to re-sign Nelson during the offseason, but if they do, he will need to take a one-year veteran qualifying contract with no guarantees. In my opinion, Nelson is done.