Today is Monday, March 5. The final day for teams to place the franchise tag on one of their qualified players is Tuesday, March 6, which would seem to be tomorrow. Running back Le’Veon Bell is the player that the Pittsburgh Steelers would tag, if they would tag anybody.
The franchise tag value for Bell would be a bit over $14.5 million. The Steelers are projected to have roughly less than half of that value available to them in terms of salary cap space. We will know for sure very soon once the official salary cap is announced.
The point that I am getting at, which I’m sure is obvious by now, is that we may well see a flurry of moves very soon, as early as today, though more likely tomorrow. Chances are, by 4 PM tomorrow, Bell will have either signed a long-term deal or have been given the franchise tag, and in either scenario, it would likely result in the team being in the negative in terms of salary cap space.
While the Steelers do not technically need to be in compliance with the salary cap until the start of the new league year, which would come next week, and which means that they can technically run a deficit for the next week or so, I do not know them to have ever done that before.
After all, they have already made a couple of moves that has allowed them to come into cap compliance, when they cleared well over $10 million in cap space by restructuring the contracts of guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. If the team does work something out with Bell, then chances are good that they would quickly get back into cap compliance as well. There isn’t much incentive to waiting until the last possible minute.
We have already talked about the possible and likely options that they would pursue in the quest to create additional salary cap space, but it doesn’t hurt to review. The simplest way to create space is to simply release players, and there are candidates for that.
The biggest salary on the books for a player who can be considered on the chopping blocks would be Mike Mitchell’s 2018 base salary of $5 million, all of which would be saved, minus displacement, should they choose to release the starter.
Fellow safety J.J. Wilcox is another strong candidate for release, standing to make over $3 million in base salary, as it currently stands, to be a backup. They tried to give him a role last season but he struggled and fell out of favor. But there has been a report that they would like to try to rework his deal.
The other, rather familiar route is to continue to restructure contracts, which does push cap hits into the future. The ideal targets would be wide receiver Antonio Brown, with a base salary of almost $8 million and a $6 million roster bonus, and tackle Alejandro Villanueva, with a $3 million base salary and $3 million roster bonus.