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Steelers 2016 Salary Cap: Early Offseason Look Ahead

Being as the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 season has now come to an end it is time to take a quick look ahead at what the team’s early 2016 salary cap picture will look like during the offseason.

As you can see in the table below, the Steelers currently have 43 players under contract for the 2016 season and that includes tackle Mike Adams, whose 2015 contract should be tolled due to him spending the season on Reserve/PUP. With that noted, 8 placeholders need to be created for the first round of offseason future signings in order to get to the projected Rule of 51 offseason roster salary cap total. After filling those spots with estimated first-year base salaries, the 51 spots now total out at an estimated $148,397,522.

Additionally, the Steelers are currently listed as having $3,000,325 in unused salary cap space in 2015 by the NFLPA that they can rollover to 2016. When you factor in those numbers, the $765,188 in dead money currently on the books for 2016, along with the widely 2016 projected minimum league salary cap amount of $153 million the organization should currently be roughly $6,837,615 under the cap as of right now. Keep in mind, however, that the team still needs to pay back over $3 million in borrowed cap space at some point. I’ll have more on that in a future post. There are also offseason workout bonuses that will need to be factored in but those will be well under $1 million.

While being under the projected salary cap by almost $6.9 million is certainly better than being over it, the Steelers, as usual, will have quite a bit of offseason business to tend to being as they already up against the minimum projected $153 million cap number. I have laid out quite a bit of that forthcoming business for you below and have focused on five key areas.

March Cap Casualty Candidates:

As of right now, nobody under contract appears set to be a March cap casualty, however, that doesn’t mean there won’t be any. Will linebacker James Harrison decide to retire? Will Arthur Moats be deemed too expensive? It’s hard to answer both of those questions right now, so keep both of those names in the back of your mind.

Restructure Candidates:

Ben Roethlisberger – The Bank of Ben is set to reopen during the offseason and I suspect the Steelers will be withdrawing from it as it relates to a restructure in order to free up some cap space. Just how much of Roethlisberger’s 2016 base salary will be turned into a signing bonus we don’t yet know, but I will be surprised if that number is more than $12 million.

Cameron Heyward – Being as Heyward has a new long-term deal in place, he figures to be a restructure candidate over the course of the next few offseasons. In addition to the $3 million base Heyward is scheduled to earn in 2016, he’s also due a $5 million roster bonus in early March. In other words, expect a restructure to happen before that is due as he will be paid that amount and likely $2 million of his base as a signing bonus. If done that way, the team will clear $5.6 million in cap space in 2016.

Maurkice Pouncey – Like Heyward, Pouncey is also due a roster bonus in March and thus he is a legitimate candidate to be restructured early on in the offseason. They might not have to go that route, however.

Mike Mitchell – If push comes to shove, Mitchell can be gone to for another restructure in order to free up cap space. Let’s hope they don’t have to dig that far. They did this past offseason, however.

Marcus Gilbert – Ditto with Gilbert. As with Mitchell, the Steelers also had to restructure Gilbert this past offseason. We are merely listing him as a candidate right now just in case.

Extension Candidates:

David DeCastro – Thanks to his fifth-year option being picked up prior to the start of the 2015 season, DeCastro is set to earn $8.07 million in 2016. A long-term deal is imminent at this point for DeCastro and it’s really only a matter of when. It’s unlikely to happen before June, so we’ll have plenty of time to take a shot at what that deal will look like, but there’s a good bet it will average between $8-9 million a year in new money. The extension should also considerably lower DeCastro’s 2016 cap charge by at least half.

Lawrence Timmons – Timmons is likely to have his contract extended during the offseason as the Steelers will certainly need to lower his $15,131,250 scheduled cap charge. Nearly $6.5 million of that cap charge is bonus amortization, so that’s not going anywhere. When the ink dries, I expect Timmons’ new deal to clear between $3-4 million in cap space in 2016. If, however, Timmons winds up being released, the team will clear $8.75 million. Personally, I don’t think it will come to that and that’s why I chose not to list him as a possible cap casualty. hopefully he takes an extension with no new bonus money just like Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu did a few years ago.

Le’Veon Bell – Bell is certainly a candidate to get an extension done late in the offseason and when he fully recovers from his knee injury. I’ll project that in a future post.

Antonio Brown – Brown is certainly due a considerable raise but if we are to believe general manager Kevin Colbert, he won’t get a contract extension until after the 2016 season. As I pointed out earlier in the season, the Steelers can rob his 2017 money in order to pay him more in 2016 but such a move would result in his 2016 cap charge going up. An extension, however, would undoubtedly lower his 2016 cap charge some. Which route will he and the Steelers go? We’ll have to wait and see.

Landry Jones – Yes, Jones is an extension candidate and I can’t believe I’m actually typing that. With that said, it might be wise for him to wait until after the 2016 season as the Steelers aren’t likely to blow his doors off with a deal. Like it or not, his market value increased a little this season.

Elephant In The Room Candidates:

Cortez Allen – The Steelers could cut Allen by the time the new league year starts and save $1.7 million in cap space with that move prior to displacement in the top 51. They could also let him go just after the start of the new league year and designate him a post June 1 cut and save $4.4 million in cap space once that date arrives with dead money carrying over to 2017. While both options have to be considered, I think Allen might just be kept around, assuming he can pass a physical. He can always be cut after June 1 if need be and especially if he can’t win a starting job in training camp.

James Harrison – Harrison could decide to retire during the offseason or the Steelers might decide to retire him. If either happens, the Steelers will clear $1.25 million in cap space prior to roster displacement.

Shaun Suisham – Suisham won’t be going anywhere initially, but he will have to beat out Chris Boswell during training camp and the preseason. If he can’t do that, the Steelers will free up $2.4 million in salary cap space just prior to the start of the 2016 season. That’s enough cap space to accommodate the 52nd and 53rd players on the roster along with the 10-man practice squad. Maybe the Steelers can trade him for a late-round draft pick after camp breaks.

Unrestricted Free Agent Re-signing Candidates:

I’ve already written about the full list of free agent candidates and while not all of them will be re-signed, several will be. Personally, I think these players should be at the top of the list and there should be enough cap room for all of their first-year charges. They are William Gay, Steve McLendon, Ramon Foster, Greg Warren, and Robert Golden.

Restricted and Exclusive Rights Free Agent Re-signings:

The key names here are Terence GarvinRoosevelt NixRoss Cockrell and Chris Hubbard. Being as Garvin is the lone restricted free agent of the group, he will be the most expensive. Nix, Cockrell and Hubbard, on the other, must accept minimum base salaries for their accrued years and that amount will also serve as their cap charges.

Final Note:

Projecting exactly what the Steelers will do in the coming months is certainly tough and tracking the team’s salary cap in real time is very tough to do. First up will be the Reserve/Future signings and those could begin taking place as soon as Monday. Several of those players will come from the team’s final practice squad. As far as restructures go, look for those to take place right before the start of the new league year and the free agent signing period. Additionally, that’s right around the time they will start re-signing their own free agents as well as issuing restricted and exclusive rights tenders. I will have more on projected extension contracts in future posts.

Remember, this is a rough outline of where the team currently sits in relation to the season just ending and it is also based on a salary cap number that has yet to be determined.

Steelers PROJECTED 2016 Salary Cap Status as of 1/18/16

PLAYER POS BASE SALARY CAP CHARGE
Ben Roethlisberger QB $17,750,000 $23,950,000
Lawrence Timmons ILB $8,750,000 $15,131,250
Antonio Brown WR $6,250,000 $12,370,833
Maurkice Pouncey C $3,500,000 $10,551,000
Cameron Heyward DE $3,000,000 $10,400,000
David DeCastro G $8,070,000 $8,070,000
Heath Miller TE $4,000,000 $7,181,668
Mike Mitchell S $5,000,000 $6,763,750
Marcus Gilbert T $3,950,000 $6,461,000
Cortez Allen CB $4,400,000 $5,750,000
Shaun Suisham K $2,400,000 $3,503,000
Arthur Moats OLB $2,500,000 $3,133,333
Jarvis Jones OLB $1,592,115 $2,769,933
Ryan Shazier ILB $1,284,292 $2,592,874
DeAngelo Williams RB $2,000,000 $2,565,000
Bud Dupree OLB $854,195 $2,095,974
Markus Wheaton WR $1,657,000 $1,804,844
James Harrison OLB $1,250,000 $1,500,000
Cody Wallace C $1,200,000 $1,350,000
Le’Veon Bell RB $966,900 $1,311,100
Stephon Tuitt DE $839,040 $1,257,121
Matt Spaeth TE $1,000,000 $1,137,500
Senquez Golson CB $616,866 $909,328
Mike Adams T $873,225 $873,225
Shamarko Thomas S $675,000 $788,288
Landry Jones QB $675,000 $784,805
Martavis Bryant WR $600,000 $709,805
Vince Williams ILB $675,000 $694,670
Sammie Coates WR $525,000 $682,879
Ross Ventrone WR $675,000 $675,000
Jordan Zumwalt ILB $600,000 $626,213
Daniel McCullers NT $600,000 $619,670
Fitzgerald Toussaint RB $600,000 $600,000
Jesse James TE $525,000 $577,228
Leterrius Walton DE $525,000 $554,232
L.J. Fort OLB $525,000 $525,000
Alejandro Villanueva T $525,000 $525,000
Jordan Berry P $525,000 $525,000
Anthony Chickillo OLB $525,000 $525,000
Doran Grant CB $525,000 $525,000
Chris Boswell K $525,000 $525,000
Eli Rogers WR $450,000 $451,666
Micah Hatchie T $450,000 $450,333
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
Future Player ? $450,000 $450,000
RULE 51 UNDER CONTRACT * $98,028,633 $148,397,522
DEAD MONEY * * $765,188
PROJECTED ROLLOVER * * $3,000,325
PROJECTED 2016 SALARY CAP * * $153,000,000
PROJECTED UNDER CAP * * $6,837,615
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