For the record, this article isn’t just about Le’Veon Bell. I’m sure many of you have had their fill on that topic. But one of the biggest criticisms of people who want Bell gone, from a practical on-field matter and not just your cousin yelling “HE’S GREEDY” into the 5 o’clock news, is that his franchise tag will prevent the Pittsburgh Steelers from improving their defense in free agency.
Let’s address that up front. That is wrong. Plain wrong.
Sure, the cap situation won’t allow them to go sign a top-shelf free agent. Was that happening anyway? These are the Steelers, not Washington, who overpay like crazy and wonder why they can’t keep their franchise quarterback in town. A big splash wasn’t happening, Bell or no Bell.
But a medium splash? Wading into waist-high water in the pool? Of course that can happen.
I’m no cap guru and I’m not going to delve into all the numbers like how Dave Bryan could. But it doesn’t take an expert to look at the baseline numbers and know they can work. The Steelers can easily, easily sign a free agent to a Mike Mitchell/Ladarius Green type deal, the two biggest ones they’ve recently inked. Both of those guys averaged $5 million a year. But in Year One, the Steelers kept their base salaries well below that average. For Mitchell, it was $2.2 million. Only slightly higher for Green at $2.437.
Can the Steelers handle less than $2.5 million for 2018? You better believe they can. They have Omar Khan. The Wizard, the Maestro, Beethoven with a calculator.
It’s enough money to find a starter at either inside linebacker or safety, though it feels like the team is more inclined to explore the former first. What player exactly will that get? It’s a little harder to say. You can look to somewhere like Spotrac but their projections seem to run high compared to what other cap gurus believe. I think that type of money can put someone like an Avery Williamson in the Steelers’ crosshairs, especially with the promise of a starting job and serious run at a Super Bowl.
We all know how the Steelers make serious improvements to the roster anyway – the draft. Hasn’t been any different since the days of Chuck Noll and Bill Nunn. And you can expect this team to go defense-heavy in the first two rounds which in this era, essentially means you’re pulling two starters or guys who will log heavy playing time.
Every 2nd round pick since 2011, with the exception of Senquez Golson (who likely would have if not for being made out of glass and tissue paper), has logged substantial playing time in year one. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Sean Davis, Stephon Tuitt, Le’Veon Bell, Mike Adams (who played close to 500 snaps), and Marcus Gilbert. That isn’t a comment on their talent, only their snap count. That trend isn’t changing in 2018 especially knowing the holes that exist on this roster.
Throw in a starting free agent and two draft picks and the Steelers have quickly restocked the roster of talent. The evaluation has to be right, of course, and there’s no guarantee new acquisitions work out, but that isn’t related to the almighty dollar.
Getting Bell to a long-term deal would be ideal financially, and not doing so has kicked the can down the road for players who restructured, but by no means do the Steelers have to do it in order to improve the 2018 roster.
It isn’t either/or. That’s a false equivalency. Pittsburgh can do both. And most of the elite teams can walk and chew gum at the same time. Keep their own expensive studs while finding new talent. That philosophy has remained constant under Kevin Colbert. That’s the key to winning another Super Bowl.