Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs just one day ago, it’s not too early to start looking ahead at a few key personnel decisions the organization might make prior to the start of the new league year in March. In short, with the Steelers expected to be tight up against the 2018 salary cap over the course of the offseason, you can probable count on there being a few roster causalities in the coming weeks.
Below is a look at the Steelers players currently under contract for the 2018 season that are at some degree of risk of becoming offseason salary cap casualties.
Mike Mitchell – S – Mitchell will be the player that most fans of the Steelers want gone sooner rather than later. The veteran safety is set to earn a base salary of $5 million in 2018 after registering just 53 total tackles and 2 defensed passes during the 2017 regular season. Mitchell will turn 31 in June and that’s another strike against him in addition to him missing 3 games this past season. While cutting Mitchell would result in a dead money charge of $3,135,418, the Steelers will save $5 million in salary cap space by releasing him.
J.J. Wilcox – S – The Steelers traded for Wilcox just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season and promptly restructured his contract to free up a little salary cap space. Wilcox ultimately didn’t contribute much to the Steelers during the regular season and with him set to earn a base salary of $3.125 million in 2018, he’s sure to be jettisoned prior to the start of the new league year. The Steelers will incur a dead money charge of $675,000 should they cut Wilcox, but in the process, will clear $3.125 million in salary cap space.
Coty Sensabaugh – CB – Sensabaugh, who signed a two-year, $2.6 million free agent contract with the Steelers last March, found himself near the bottom of the cornerback depth chart at the end of the 2017 regular season and he was even a healthy scratch for the team’s playoff game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The veteran is set to earn a base salary of $1.4 million in 2018 and that’s going to be hard to justify. That $1.4 million in salary cap space can help go towards the team’s several free agent tenders they’re sure to issue. Cutting Sensabaugh results in a dead money charge of $212,500.
Darrius Heyward-Bey – WR – The veteran wide receiver has merely been a special teams contributor for several seasons now and it’s finally time to cut the cord attached to him. Heyward-Bey is set to earn a base salary of $1.2 million in 2018 and that money can also help go towards offseason free agent tenders.
William Gay – CB – Was Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars the final game of Gay’s long NFL career? It’s certainly possible. Gay, who is now 33, is set to earn a base salary of $1.75 million in 2018 and that would be the Steelers cap saving if he were to be released.
Vance McDonald – TE – I’m in no way advocating the Steelers cutting McDonald. With that said, he’s a player that must be up for debate just the same. McDonald, who missed several games during the 2017 regular season due to injuries, is set to earn a base salary of $3.7 million in 2018 and that becomes fully guaranteed on April 1. That doesn’t even take into account the other minor roster and incentive bonuses that he stands to earn. In short, the Steelers will need to decide if McDonald is worth keeping around another year. Cutting him early would result in a salary cap savings of well over $4 million. Personally, I think he’ll be retained.
Joe Haden – CB – Haden is yet another player who ultimately is likely to retained yet still needs to be discussed. Haden, who signed a three-year, $27 million free agent contract with the Steelers right before the start of the 2017 regular season, is now scheduled to earn a base salary in 2018 of $9 million. Additionally, Haden is due a $1 million roster bonus in March. Cutting Haden early would result in a salary cap savings of 8,083,332. While I don’t think the Steelers will ultimately part ways with Haden, they might decide to restructure his contract in some form or fashion to lower his 2018 salary cap charge some.
Summary: In my opinion, Wilcox, Gay, Sensabaugh and Heyward-Bey are all almost guaranteed to become salary cap casualties by the start of the new league year. As for Mitchell, I would tend to lean more toward him being jettisoned as well. As for McDonald and Haden, I think both are ultimately retained.