The Pittsburgh Steelers have, by and large, been on an upward swing over the course of the past two and a half seasons after they missed the playoffs for two straight seasons, and failed to win a postseason game in four straight years.
Last season saw them gain that elusive playoff victory, though they came up short with about three minutes left in the Divisional round a week later. Their offense took off, and their defense improved, showing playmaking ability and opportunism.
But there are still a lot of unanswered questions facing the team as we crack into free agency territory. As an exercise, we like to take a stab at some of those questions, presenting arguments for the pros and cons of each side of the coin. This is the pessimist’s take on the following question.
Question: Was the decision to cut outright Cortez Allen now, and with no designation, the best move?
The Steelers had a bit of a late Friday news dump when late last week they announced that they were releasing five-year veteran cornerback Cortez Allen, who had been limited to just one game in 2015, and has been demoted, if not benched outright, in each of the past three seasons.
Though to some degree viewed as inevitable due to his health, struggles, and financial demands, it was a surprise to hear of them making the transaction so late into the new league year in mid-April, as it does not fit their typical style of business.
For one thing, there were reports that the team asked him to take a pay cut, which would contradict the notion that his release was inevitable. It would be senseless to ask a player you intended to cut to take a cut in salary, since you would be cutting his entire salary anyway when you released him. So provided that the report was accurate, it is untrue that his release was inevitable.
Should the release not have been triggered by either Allen’s refusal to take a pay cut, or perhaps the team’s ability to get a better understanding of where he is physically—though it is notable that he was not released with a failed physical designation, which is not hard to achieve—then there is some objection to be had with the timing of the move.
I have already written previously this offseason about how the new Browns regime handled the release of a pair of their own veteran defensive players, and how a pattern of such business transactions can have repercussions in their future dealings in free agency. That aside, I don’t believe releasing him now without a post-June designation makes much sense if the money is not needed before June.
Though the NFLPA numbers don’t quite reflect it yet, the release of Allen should put the Steelers at roughly $3.4 million below the cap, as with displacement they will have saved roughly $1.2 million. But the extra $1.2 million over the next month and a half does not seem pertinent.
For one, they have already shown a prior lack of urgency in getting their entire draft class signed, as was the case in 2014 when they signed many of their draft picks early in June after recouping cap savings from LaMarr Woodley’s release as a post-June designation.
They could have done the same with Allen, and doing so would have given them greater financial flexibility. A post-June release would have yielded millions more in cap space that they could have either used this season, or simply carried over into next season. Doing so in this manner merely restricts their options unless they develop a time-sensitive need for that space prior to June.
The Steelers will inevitably still need to create more cap space, and that means making more moves. In addition to the roughly $2 million or so needed with displacement to sign their draft class, they will also need another $1 million roughly when the cap reflects a 53-man roster, plus another $1 million or so for a 10-man practice squad, topped off with a cap cushion of $2-3 million to in-season emergencies.
It is clear that there are still pending cap needs in the future of the 2016 offseason, which makes it more difficult for me to understand why they would have not opted for making Allen a post-June release, since whatever cap-saving moves they would be making from this point on would also increase future dead money in signing bonus acceleration.