With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 season now over it’s time to start looking ahead to the offseason and particularly to the team’s 2018 salary cap situation. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Steelers are already crunched for salary cap space and in fact, they’re currently over based on several early final NFL salary cap number projections. In this post we’ll take a look at where the Steelers are right now salary cap wise with their Rule of 51 number in addition to taking a look ahead at what figures to be a busy, busy business offseason.
We need a starting point for this look at the Steelers 2018 salary cap situation and so it’s best to work with the players they currently have under contract in relation to the Rule of 51 offseason procedure. The Rule of 51 means only the top 51 cap charges are counted along with any dead money and signing bonus amounts outside of the top 51. Thanks to recent slew of offseason signings the Steelers just made this past week, they currently have 51 players under contract for the 2018 season and that makes a perfect starting point for us.
The total cap charges for the 51 players currently under contract with the Steelers is $187,216,911. In addition to that, the Steelers currently have $956,175 in dead money on the books for 2018. If you add those two numbers together you get a Top 51 amount of $188,173,086.
According to the NFLPA, the Steelers have $4,040,611 in leftover salary cap space from the 2017 season that they can roll over to 2018. That number will be finalized very soon but for now we’ll go with that number. Several NFL insiders are projecting that the 2018 NFL salary cap will be $178 million so we’ll work off of that number for the sake of this exercise. In short, the Steelers projected adjusted salary cap number is $184,132,475. As you can see, the Steelers are currently $6,132,475 over the cap based on the figures presented.
Now that we have a Rule of 51 starting point for the Steelers, the next step in this process is to predict the offseason tags and tenders the Steelers might issue. Once again, these are only projections of players I think might be tagged or tendered along with their estimated amounts.
We’ll first need to start with running back Le’Veon Bell potentially receiving the franchise tag once again and that amount will be $14.54 million. Next, we’re going to speculate that restricted free agent kicker Chris Boswell receives a second-round tender from the Steelers. While we don’t yet know that amount, it should be around $2.965 million for 2018. Additionally, I expect four other of the Steelers restricted free agents, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, wide receiver Eli Rogers, fullback Roosevelt Nix and punter Jordan Berry, to all receive the lowest available tender. We’ll project a low tender amount of $1.94 million. As far as outstanding exclusive rights tenders, I expect the Steelers to issue offensive linemen B.J. Finney and Matt Feiler ones in the amounts of $630,000 and $555,000, respectively.
Those expected tags and tenders total out at $26.45 million. However, based on the current 51 man roster, displacement of those eight players would result in a total of $22.535 million needing to budgeted for. When you add that to the $6,132,475 the Steelers are already over the projected salary cap number of $178 million, based solely in their current Rule of 51 number, they become $28,667,475 over the cap. In short, the Steelers need to clear a ton of salary cap space in hurry this offseason.
So, how will the Steelers go about clearing that large amount of salary cap space quickly? Here are some options for you to consider.
Roethlisberger Contract Extension – How much longer does quarterback Ben Roethlisberger actually want to play? If the answer is more than just a few seasons then we could see him sign a contract extension very soon and before his $5 million roster bonus is due in the early spring. In theory, the Steelers could potentially clear around $7 million in salary cap space for 2018 if they sign Roethlisberger to a three-year extension and that’s with it being a very fair market value deal for him. This isn’t guaranteed to happen, but Roethlisberger did reportedly tell his offensive lineman that he wants to play at least three more seasons. His current contract expires after the 2019 season. I think we’ll find out real soon if this is going to happen.
Tuitt Contract Restructure – Defensive end Stephon Tuitt, who signed a new long term contract extension just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season, is a prime candidate for an early offseason restructure. He’s due a $7.5 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the new league year so you can expect that, and perhaps $2.5 million of his $3.5 million scheduled base salary for 2018, to be turned into a signing bonus. Such a move would clear $8 million in salary cap space for 2018. The opportunity to clear as much as $8.168 million in salary cap space via a restructure is available to the Steelers.
Brown Contract Restructure – Brown, like Tuitt, signed a very lucrative contract extension last year and with no signs of him slowing down soon, he’ll be a perfect restructure candidate early in the offseason. Brown is due a $6 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the new league year so you can expect at least that full amount, along with a good portion of his scheduled 2018 base salary to be turned into a signing bonus. In total, the Steelers can clear up to $9.72 million in 2018 salary cap space by doing a full allotted restructure of Brown’s contract.
Other Contract Restructure Candidates – If need be, guard David DeCastro and tackle Alejandro Villanueva will be contract restructure candidates early in the offseason. Full restructures on both those players would clear $8.6225 million in 2018 salary cap space.
Cut Wilcox – It’s hard to imaging safety J.J. Wilcox not being released in the very near future. He barely played last season after being acquired via a trade. The team then proceeded to restructure his contract after trading for him in order to free up a little salary cap space for the 2017 season. Regardless, Wilcox can easy be released and the Steelers will clear $3.125 million in 2018 salary cap space prior to roster spot displacement in doing so.
Cut Mitchell – Will the Steelers actually consider making safety Mike Mitchell an early offseason salary cap casualty? It’s possible and if he is cut, the Steelers will save $5 million in 2018 salary cap space pending roster spot displacement.
Cut Sensabaugh, Gay and Heyward-Bey – Cornerbacks Coty Sensabaugh and William Gay along with wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey are all potential offseason salary cap casualties. Cutting the three of them would result in $4.35 million in 2018 salary cap space being cleared prior to roster displacements.
In extending Roethlisberger’s contract and doing full contract restructures on Tuitt and Brown, the Steelers could clear nearly $25 million is 2018 salary cap space, according to my projections, and that nearly covers the $28,667,475 overture they might face based on my projected tag and tenders. Cutting Wilcox at that point should put them under the cap when it comes to working with the Rule of 51 number. Restructuring both DeCastro and Villanueva, along with cutting Mitchell, Sensabaugh, Gay and Heyward-Bey, provides roughly $20 million more in 2018 salary cap space should the Steelers choose to go that direction.
As you can see in the table below, I have projected all primary offseason costs for the Steelers along with the current Rule of 51 numbers and that’s why you see them as being $37,509,475 over the projected 2018 $178 million salary cap number. Those projected costs include a 10-man practice squad, a 52nd and 53rd player on the roster, draft pick signing room needed, offseason roster bonuses and other minor costs. Obviously, my projected numbers aren’t going to be all correct, but they should be in the ballpark.
So what about offseason free agent signing for the Steelers? If I were you, I wouldn’t get your hopes up for a busy signing period and quite honestly, it might look a lot like what happened last year. Most of the team’s big needs will be addressed during the 2018 NFL Draft.
SUMMARY: The 2018 NFL league year starts on March 14 and that’s when the Rule of 51 kicks in. That is now eight weeks away so things will start picking up very soon for the Steelers when it comes to a possible contract extension for Roethlisberger and a few contract restructures. The salary cap casualty cuts will likely take place around the first week of March, after the annual NFL Scouting Combine is over. February 20 is the first day for clubs to designate Franchise or Transition Players. The deadline for that process is March 6.
So numbers and projected amounts for this salary cap update were acquired from overthecap.com, the NFLPA and former NFL agent Joel Corry. All three are great salary cap data resources.
Steelers 2018 Salary Cap Numbers And Projections
|PLAYER||BASE SALARY||CAP CHARGE|
|TOTAL UNDER CONTRACT||$117,499,007||$187,216,911|
|TOTAL DEAD MONEY||$956,175|
|2017 CAP ROLLOVER||$4,040,611|
|RULE OF 51 TOTAL||$184,132,475|
|PROJECTED 2018 SALARY CAP||$178,000,000|
|OVER/UNDER CAP||OVER $6,132,475|
|PROJECTED ROSTER COST|
|PROJECTED TAG & TENDERS|
|TOTAL PROJECTED TAG & TENDERS||$26,450,000|
|TOTAL TAG & TENDERS POST DISPLACEMENT||$22,535,000|
|PROJECTED INJURY BENEFIT CLAIM||$550,000|
|PROJECTED OFFSEASON WORKOUT BONUSES||$600,000|
|PROJECTED DRAFT PICKS POST DISPLACEMENT||$1,800,000|
|PROJECTED PRACTICE SQUAD||$1,292,000|
|PROJECTED 52ND & 53RD PLAYERS||$1,100,000|
|PROJECTED INSEASON CAP ROOM||$3,500,000|
|TOTAL PROJECTED ROSTER COSTS||$31,377,000|
|TOTAL OVER/UNDER CAP WITH PROJECTED COSTS||OVER $37,509,475|