The Pittsburgh Steelers began the 2016 offseason in much better financial shape, with respect to the salary cap, than they have been since prior to the uncapped season of several years back. This is something that they are acutely aware of, and they are taking advantage of that fact by getting their work done in free agency, even dipping their feet—not just their toes—into outside free agency.
Having already re-signed four of their own free agents in the days leading up to free agency, those being the four players that they prioritized who were the simplest to re-sign—safety Robert Golden, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, cornerback William Gay, and guard Ramon Foster—the Steelers quickly focused their sights on bolstering their tight end position in the wake of Heath Miller’s retirement.
In doing so, they targeted Chargers free agent tight end Ladarius Green, netting him on a four-year, $20 million contract which they helped to afford by, as always, offering small guarantees up front. They are also reported to have made an offer to free agent left tackle Russell Okung, who visited with the team late last week. That offer is said to be being considered as one of a few that the veteran has received.
The Steelers opened free agency with cap space in excess of $10 million, when in past offseasons they have headed toward the beginning of the new league year in excess of $10 million over the cap, requiring them to make accounting maneuvers on the books just to get into compliance.
They have already spent much of that on the five aforementioned players, of course, and, according to the NFLPA, currently have the least amount of cap space available at the moment out of all 32 teams, listed at the moment to have $3.7 million remaining in cap space. The Saints, Jets, and Bills were at the time of writing, and the time of the NFLPA report, the only other teams with less than $10 million in cap space.
Not that this leaves the team in a bad position, by any means, of course. The Steelers are simply taking advantage of having cap space to spend early in free agency and doing so with discretion, signing quality players to fair contracts that many believe have come, if anything, below market value, and with little, relatively, in the way of guarantees.
They have also shown that they are clearly not done buying, less than a week into the new league year, given the aforementioned contract offer to Okung, the recent visit with Jason Jones, and the continued interest in retaining many of their own free agents who are now on the open market as of six days ago.
Outside of signing free agents, the Steelers have no need of cap space until the summer, when it becomes necessary to sign their draft picks and get extensions done with players. It is at that time that they can worry about finagling the books once again when the post-June accounting comes into effect. It is a strategy that is paying off well so far.