Even though the start of the 2017 NFL league year is a little more than two months away, it’s not too early to look ahead at a few decisions the Pittsburgh Steelers will be faced with during the early stages of it. I’ve already posted about the Steelers 2017 free agents and their salary cap situation and today I’ll explore the few players who several might view as being potential cuts during the offseason months that lie ahead.
Ladarius Green – When you build a list related to Steelers players who could possibly have their contracts terminated prior to training camp, Green absolutely must be on top of it. The Steelers signed Green to a four-year, $20 million free agent contract last March and unfortunately were only able to get him on the field for a total of six regular season games that included 140 total offensive snaps.
While Green is reportedly past the ankle problem that he had that required surgery well before the Steelers signed him, there’s still quite a bit concern about the multiple concussions that he’s suffered. There was a lot of talk about Green experiencing headaches last offseason and that that might have been the real reason he had to spend the first half of the 2016 regular season on the Steelers Reserve/PUP list.
While Green did start producing once he finally started seeing the field this past November, another concussion that he ultimately suffered during the team’s Week 15 game resulted in him being sidelined the remainder of the season. Rest assured that the Steelers will spend the next few months closely examining Green to find out if he’s a high-risk regarding possible future concussions and if he continues to have headaches associated with his past ones. In short, I wouldn’t expect the Steelers to make any sort of move with Green until after the 2017 NFL Draft takes place as there really is no urgency to do so.
Should the Steelers ultimately decide to part ways with Green, they will have several options. First, if the Steelers were to part ways with Green prior to June 1, they would ultimately save $2.625 million in 2017 salary cap space prior to roster displacement as he would have $3.5625 in dead money that would need to be accounted for. Now, the Steelers could ultimately decide to make Green a post-June 1 release and in going that route they would save $5 million in 2017 in salary cap space after that date passes. Such a move, however, would result in the Steelers needing to account for a dead money charge of $2.375 million against their salary cap in 2018. Additionally, the Steelers would be required to carry Green’s full currently scheduled 2017 salary cap charge of $6.1875 million until the first of June should they ultimately decide to designate him a post June 1 release well before that date.
In my opinion, the Steelers should avoid doing anything with Green until they see how he does throughout the team’s offseason program and that includes letting him participate in the OTA practices. By then, they’ll have the 2017 NFL Draft well behind them and should have a clearer picture as it relates to Green’s risk-factor. If the Steelers determine that Green’s headaches and aversion to concussions are in the past, then he will likely be allowed to take part in training camp. If they have any reservations, however, the Steelers should probably release Green ahead of training camp. From there, the Steelers can decide if they have enough reason to warrant them attempting to recoup some or all of the $4.75 million signing bonus they gave to him last March.
Arthur Moats – Let me start by saying that Moats is a fantastic human being and a perfect fit in the Steelers locker room. He’s only on this list because of the salary that he’s currently scheduled to earn in 2017 in addition to the fact that he’s not a starter. The outside linebacker played 396 total defensive snaps during the 2016 regular season in addition to 70 more snaps on special teams. He recorded 21 total tackles during the regular season and that includes 3.5 sacks.
Moats has several things going for him heading into 2017 that could ultimately prevent him from being released at some point. For starters, the Steelers currently only have two outside linebackers that ended the 2016 season on their 53-man roster under contract for the 2017 season at that’s Moats and Bud Dupree. Fellow outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo will join Moats and Dupree very soon as he’s expected to be issued an exclusive rights tender that he must accept. The fact that Moats hasn’t missed a regular season game since 2012 also shows that he’s a durable and dependable player. Additionally, he’s averaged nearly four sacks a season in his three years in Pittsburgh in somewhat limited playing time.
Now, the Steelers are likely to re-sign veteran James Harrison at some point during the offseason now that he’s indicated he wants to play another season. Additionally, we can probably expect the Steelers to spend an early-round selection on an edge rusher during the 2017 NFL Draft and they could quite possibly double-dip at the position in the later rounds. While Moats’ 2017 $2.25 million base salary might stick out to several being as he’s a backup, it’s not a deal breaker when it comes to the Steelers need for offseason salary cap space. In fact, when you consider the salary cap displacement related to a potential release of Moats, the real recognized savings come in under $2 million.
In summation, Moats isn’t likely to be released ahead of training camp as there is really nothing to be gained by cutting a player with his experience and especially when you consider the expected depth the team will likely have ahead of them reporting to Latrobe.
Ryan Harris – The Steelers signed Harris to a two year, $3.9 million contract last March after losing Kelvin Beachum to the Jacksonville Jaguars via free agency. The veteran swing-tackle appeared in four games for the Steelers in 2016 before ultimately being place on their Reserve/Injured list with a leg hematoma in October.
As things stand right now, the Steelers are in great shape when it comes to their offensive line depth chart for the 2017 season. In fact, that depth figures to improve in the coming days and weeks as backups B.J. Finney and Chris Hubbard are both expected to be tendered as exclusive rights and restricted free agents respectively. Keep in mind that the Steelers currently appear to like the upside of tackle Brian Mihalik. Additionally, last year’s fourth-round draft pick, tackle Jerald Hawkins, will also be expected to compete for a roster spot in 2017 after spending his rookie season on the team’s Reserve/Injured list.
Now, just because Harris looks to be way on the outside looking in as it relates to a potential 2017 roster spot as we sit here in late January, doesn’t mean the Steelers should be in a hurry to part ways with him during the offseason. His $1.9 million scheduled base salary in 2017 isn’t a burden against the Steelers salary cap as much like Moats, there isn’t a lot of relief to be recognized by parting ways with him in the coming months.
In summation, like Moats, the Steelers should hang on to Harris for the time being and ultimately allow him to compete for a depth roster spot during training camp as you never know how injuries might wind up playing a part in things.
Quite honestly, the Steelers aren’t likely to have any player terminations ahead of the start of the 2017 league year for the reasons I have outlined above. Additionally, moving forward into the offseason it would be quite surprising if they parted ways with any of the three players I listed above before June 1.