The journey toward Super Bowl LII ended far too prematurely for the Pittsburgh Steelers, sending them into offseason mode before we were ready for it. But we are in it now, and are ready to move on, through the Combine, through free agency, through the draft, into OTAs, and beyond.
We have asked and answered a lot of questions over the years and will continue to do so, and at the moment, there seem to be a ton of questions that need answering. A surprise early exit in the postseason will do that to you though, especially when it happens in the way it did.
You can rest assured that we have the questions, and we will be monitoring developments all throughout the offseason process, all the way down to Latrobe. Pending free agents, possible veteran roster cuts, contract extensions, pre-draft visits, pro days, all of it will have its place when the time arises.
Question: How many players will the Steelers release prior to the start of free agency?
With the application of the franchise on running back Le’Veon Bell and the restructured contract for wide receiver Antonio Brown, the Steelers only find themselves with roughly $1 million in wiggle room with the 2018 salary cap set at $177.2 million.
If Pittsburgh is actually looking to do anything in the early portions of free agency, they will have to make more moves, and that could include cutting some veteran players. They will have to make some sort of move in order to apply a restricted free agent tender to Chris Boswell, likely at a second-round level, since an original-round tender of a former undrafted free agent Pro Bowl kicker is too big of a risk, and they will cost close to $3 million.
The only player that is even a reasonable consideration in this discussion that would be a required early cut, however, is Vance McDonald, as he is the only player who is not a full-time starter who has a roster bonus, to be paid at the start of the new league year. But I don’t expect him to be cut. Joe Haden also has a roster bonus, but he’s not going anywhere either.
We already know the likely names. Mike Mitchell is at the top of most people’s lists, with his $5 million base salary. J.J. Wilcox has a base salary of over $3 million. Another names that could be under consideration for release are the cornerbacks, Coty Sensabaugh and William Gay, which combined would save a bit over $3 million in cap space prior to displacement. Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey might be another name to consider.
So when the new league year begins next week, how many of these players will still be on the roster? none of them? All of them? I think the latter is more likely than the former, though it can easily be perceived that two or three of the names above see their contracts terminated.