Whether or not you choose to believe reports that the Pittsburgh Steelers are over the projected salary cap, there is no doubt that the team will need to make some additional cap room to accommodate predictable future expenses unaccounted for currently, such as the final two roster spots, the impending draft class, and a practice squad. They will also be signing free agents (more likely than not their own, of course) and perhaps extending a couple of players.
All of this will add up to more cap space than they currently have available no matter what source you choose to trust, which means, to nobody’s surprise, that the Steelers will be making some moves, primarily via restructures, to make that cap space.
One idea that has been floated around for a while now is that of outright releasing inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons—a proposal that will create a significant amount of dead money, but also create a significant amount of cap room.
After all, the Steelers have cut plenty of name-brand players before for reasons not wholely isolated from the salary cap, such as James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Willie Colon. All three are players that the Steelers gave big contracts that in the end may not have lived up to their value, or at least were no longer the same value at the time of release.
Harrison, of course, was asked to accept a pay cut before he was released. But part of the reason he was released is because he was already getting up there in age at that time, and his physical condition had only been deteriorating, leaving the fair projection that his play would only continue to diminish.
In the case of Woodley, of course, a series of soft tissue injuries had robbed the former Pro Bowler of his elite-level play, and that was when he was even able to get on the field. The Steelers had just drafted an outside linebacker in the first round—it was time to move on.
As for Colon, after signing a lucrative contract, he suffered a string of unfortunate injuries that robbed him of 31 games in a two-year span, and then, after agreeing to move to guard, he ended up on injured reserve yet again, albeit late in the year. There were reports that he was agreeable to accepting a pay cut to stay, but the Steelers chose to re-sign Ramon Foster to start opposite David DeCastro instead.
The team doesn’t really have any of those conditions or concerns when it comes to Timmons. He’s certainly not old—though he has been in the league for nine seasons, he will only turn 30 years old in May. And he certainly has not been a healthy liability. He has played in 104 straight games dating back to midway through the 2009 season, the year he entered the starting lineup.
In terms of numbers, he is still a very productive player, racking up nearly 120 tackles to go along with five sacks, a forced fumble, an interception, and six passes defensed. His play may have declined some from his prime, but he hasn’t fallen so far as to question his ability to start.
Timmons is the first draft pick ever made by Mike Tomlin as a head coach. He is, in a way, the first-born son, as Cameron Heyward joked, alluding to playful favoritism that Tomlin has for Timmons in practice settings. The two will be forever linked. It would take a much more difficult circumstance to see that happen.
Timmons has already commented on his status last year, saying that he wants to retire a Steeler and would be willing to work with the front office to make that happen. You can bet on it that in some form or fashion, his cap hit will be lowered this year, but I can virtually guarantee you it won’t come in the form of moving him off the roster.