When it comes to Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and his future with the team, opinions seem to be rather mixed, on not one, but two fronts.
There are some who believe that this should be his final season with the team—others have even suggested releasing him, or at least trying to trade him. The other side of the aisle believes there is no imminent end to his effectiveness on the playing field.
On a roughly parallel but not entirely identical line of thinking is the divide over whether or not his 2016 contract should be touched. While he is scheduled to earn a base salary of $8,750,000, several past restructures over the life of his initial six-year contract have ballooned his prorated figure to $6,381,250, reflecting a total 2016 cap hit of $15,131,250 on the final year of his deal.
Of course, only the value of the base salary can be touched, as the prorated portion of the cap hit reflects money that has already been paid to the player, and is only now being accounted for on the books in a strategic move to save precious cap space in previous seasons when it was more needed.
A large contingent has believed through much of the offseason that the Steelers should sign Timmons to a modest extension that would chop down his base salary to the minimum, add a couple of years onto his contract, and add little new money to the deal, which would not only, obviously, extend his contract, but also offer a bit more space this year, albeit offsetting that with more money added to future years.
This was the same path that they took two years ago with veterans Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu in order to provide cap relief. Polamalu was coaxed into retirement with both of the added years left on his contract, while Miller just retired with one year remaining of two added on to his deal.
I personally believe this is something that should be done, or at least considered, but not everybody agrees, and that includes Bill Barnwell, of ESPN, who described the Steelers’ decision to avoid doing so as “financial prudence” and highlighted it as among the things that “went right” during their offseason.
Barnwell begins as articles such as these typically begin, overstating, often out of ignorance, not only the dire state of the team’s salary cap, but also the frequency with, and amount of money, which they advanced into future seasons.
He points out the radical discrepancy between his cap hit and his relative worth compared to other inside linebackers, all the while recognizing the fact that only about 60 percent of his cap hit is relevant to his 2016 pay.
Calling Timmons “a good player being paid an extravagant sum”, Barnwell writes that a restructured deal in the vein of Polamalu and Miller would have “ended up with a replacement-level player being paid a starting sum two or three years from now, as was the case with those other aforementioned veterans”.
To be frank, I do not agree with Barnwell’s position and believe it is myopic. For starters, any money pushed into future years has a percentage-wise less significant impact on the future cap than it does on the present cap, given that the salary cap regularly rises. In addition, any savings from one season can be carried over to the next, which, if unspent, offsets the movement of money. You are simply borrowing from the future to spend it now, which was often a necessity for the Steelers in the recent past.
Barnwell acknowledges that the team still has pending expenses that will likely require more cap space, particularly potential extensions, yet he insists that it is best not to touch Timmons’ contract, as though it makes a significant difference where the space comes from.
But considering that the soon-to-be 30-year-old logged 95 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last year, and hasn’t missed a game since 2009, it’s hard to come up with a more dependable source from which to collect that potentially needed space.