I wrote an article yesterday about Pittsburgh Steelers veteran inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons and his contract status, in the final year of a six-year contract as he enters his age-30 season. While his base salary is south of $9 million for the season, his cap hit has ballooned to over $15 million due to previous restructures of his contract.
I wrote that Bill Barnwell of ESPN praised the team’s “restraint” that they have shown in electing to resist the evident temptation of offering him a modest extension in the vein of those that they offered to Heath Miller and Troy Polamalu two years ago, which would lower his 2016 cap hit and put more years on his deal, but also push more money into future years.
The article drew a lot of vibrant discussion in the comments section that branched off into a variety of angles, and got me thinking about the 2017 angle—that is, where to the Steelers stand in terms of the 2017 salary cap, and how is that influencing their decisions this offseason?
For starters, we can take a look at a site such as OverTheCap.com, which lists the Steelers as having just under $111 million in commitments for the 2017 season, which may sound like quite a bit, but is actually projected to yield them the eighth-most cap space in the league, with a current working 2017 cap from the site listed at $166 million leaving them with a bit over $55 million in cap space.
Now, before you start hyperventilating in excitement over the prospects of what the Steelers could put together in free agency with $55 million in cap space, understand that their 2017 roster is very much incomplete; for starters, they only have 39 players under contract for 2017, the least of all teams. Simply adding 12 addition contracts to reach the Rule of 51 will add several million to that figure.
Also yet to be accounted for are likely contract extensions with players such as guard David DeCastro and running back Le’Veon Bell, who are both currently in the final years of their rookie contacts, DeCastro under the fifth-year option.
The Steelers are privy to this future situation, which you can see in their actions. They released cornerback Cortez Allen, for example, prior to the draft, but they did so in a way that yields them significantly less cap space this year by not making him a post-June cut, which accelerated dead money that would have been accounted for next year into this year.
It is an indication that the team is making a concerted effort to ‘clear’ the books so to speak for next season, against which they are currently slated to carry no dead money. Pending likely or potential contract extensions in 2017 will include players such as Stephon Tuitt and Jarvis Jones, while Vince Williams and Markus Wheaton will be hitting free agency—was will Bell if not extended this offseason.
It is very possible that the Steelers do push some money from this season into next season, particularly if they intend to work out some extensions during training camp. Options in the way of doing that would include restructuring the contracts of players such as Ben Roethlisberger or Cameron Heyward—or extending Timmons and restructuring his contract by turning the majority of his nearly $9 million base salary into a signing bonus that would spread out evenly over the length of the contract and chip into his $15 million cap hit.