Although the release of Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen hardly came as a surprise, the timing and manner of release did surprise some, including myself. In particular, I was surprised to see that he was not released with a post-June designation for a very simple reason, that being the fact that they will still, more likely than not, need to create additional cap space later on this season.
The straight release of Allen saved the Steelers roughly $1.2 million with respect to the salary cap, with displacement eating up about half a million in potential savings, since technically his release freed up $1.7 million, his base salary minus accelerated proration.
That move leaves the team roughly $3.5 million under the cap, but that will certainly not be enough to get them into the regular season, and it would completely hamstring them from, for example, working out a contract extension with Le’Veon Bell, or accelerating any money on Antonio Brown’s contract, as they did last year, as he bides his time for his own new extension.
For starters, the Steelers will obviously need money to sign their impending draft class, which as it currently stands barring potential moves will require $5 million or so in cap space, but displacing lower-value contracts on the end of the roster will cut into more than half of that amount. Still, even considering about $2 million in total damage, that leaves roughly $1.5 million in cap space.
About $1 million or so will be required once the regular season begins and the Rule of 51 is no longer in effect, as the 52nd and 53rd players on the roster will now count against the cap. Their contracts figure to count for the minimum—but the minimum is worth almost half a million apiece.
That leaves just a bit of change left over for the 10-man practice squad, which will require a bit more than what remains—meaning that the team will already be over the cap by that point without having had the opportunity to do anything else of relevance beyond simply signing their players.
Teams around the league, the Steelers among them of course, also prefer to go into the season with some breathing room with respect to the salary cap in the event that injuries or other unforeseen circumstances make it necessary, which figures to be around $2-3 million, so we are talking about millions more in cap space needed between now and the start of the regular season.
Some sources of cap relief are still available that will be helpful. Relieving Shaun Suisham off the books after June will provide cap relief just south of about $2 million, although it will push a little over $2 million in dead money into the future, but this is a move that is virtually inevitable.
A long-term extension with David DeCastro is also bound to be in the works. The guard currently counts just north of $8 million against the cap, and while they can certainly cut into that, I do believe Dave’s early February contract projection that saves about $3 million on the 2016 cap is a bit optimistic for a player that was just a first-team All-Pro. Though not a seamless comparison, Cameron Heyward’s extension barely provided half a million in cap relief.
All of this will only, on the optimistic end of the spectrum, get the Steelers close to where they need to be by the start of the regular season. But if they want to get something done with Bell, or if Brown insists on getting his, then they will need more.
Note that Bell currently counts just $1.3 million, roughly, against the cap. Assuming a first-year base salary of $1 million, in order to equal his cap hit, he would need to be given a signing bonus of no more than $1.5 million, which, prorated over five years, comes out to $300,000. I think it’s obvious that that is absurd.
Any deal done with Bell will significantly inflate his cap hit this season, so unless the Steelers’ plan for the rest of this offseason includes no further moves other than the completely obvious—signing the draft class, extending DeCastro with a low-as-possible first-year hit, and releasing or trading Suisham—then the bottom line is that they could have used the extra space they would have gained from giving Allen a post-June designation, which, if unused, would simply be accelerated into next season anyway.
One move that can be made without too much interference with future years would be to extend the contract of Lawrence Timmons, who is entering the last year of his deal. While the majority of his cap hit is due to past restructures, there is still a substantial amount left that, with an extension, can reduce his 2016 cap hit by millions.