Following the Ryan Shazier injury and the release of Mike Mitchell, the Pittsburgh Steelers had two holes in their starting lineup on defense. They filled those holes with the signings of linebacker Jon Bostic and safety Morgan Burnett in free agency, signings that happened as quickly as we heard about them.
Despite the fact that the team’s salary cap situation is burdened by Shazier’s absence yet $8.7 million cap hit, as well as Le’Veon Bell’s $14.5 million franchise tag, the Steelers were able to upgrade their defense while doing so on a tight cap budget with deals that are very typical of how they do business.
While neither were premium free agent signings, Bostic was had on a two-year, $4 million deal that included a signing bonus of $1.4 million and a year-one base salary of $800K. He takes home $2.2 million in cash in year one, but only registers a cap hit of $1.5 million.
Thanks to roster displacement, however, Bostic’s signing only added about $1 million to the team’s cap number. To be more specific, it added $1.02 million, as it knocked one of the team’s $480K contracts out of the top 51 from the offseason roster.
As for Burnett, he is said to have signed a three-year contract worth $14.35 million, which includes a signing bonus of $4.25 million. That is actually a fairly substantial signing bonus relative to the total amount of the contract that he signed, accounting for about 30 percent of the total value of the deal.
But the hit is spread out over the three years, adding less than $1.5 million to each, and he only has a year-one base salary of $1 million, which I’m assuming is at or near the minimum salary for a vested veteran of his tenure.
As a result, Burnett has a cap hit in the first year of his contract of just $2.416 million and change. With roster displacement, again, that works to below $2 million added to the salary cap ($1,936,666). Combined, the Steelers added two starters to their secondary for the 2018 season while only adding about $3 million to their salary cap amount. The higher salaries in later years also make them easier to cut.
While it’s far from out of the ordinary for teams to sign players to contracts that feature low year-one cap hits, the Steelers have consistently utilized this strategy, coupled with low percentages of guaranteed money, to create flexible deals that allow them to maneuver in the future if necessary.
Yes, at times it results in the team restructuring contracts, which returned in full force this offseason with Antonio Brown, Stephon Tuitt, David DeCastro, and Alejandro Villanueva. But the contracts that these players signed were made knowing that they were ripe for restructure.