The Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in rare waters a year ago as they entered their 2017 installment of training camp with cap money burning a whole in their pocket. As had not been the case since before the lockout back in 2011, they had a lot of cap space, and they used it to try to better their team.
Because of that money—going to the likes of Joe Haden (with a $11.9 million cap hit this year) and Vance McDonald ($4.3 million)—being spent a year ago, Pittsburgh again finds itself pretty tight up against the cap, all things considered.
The team was hoping to try to find some relief for that by giving running back Le’Veon Bell a long-term contract, believing that they could structure his deal in such a way that would lower his 2018 cap hit from the $14.55 million franchise tag value on which he currently sits.
General Manager Kevin Colbert acknowledged yesterday that that is a problem. As he spoke to reporters during training camp, he was asked about whether or not the team’s failure to reach a long-term deal with Bell would have ramifications for other moves that they hoped to be able to make over the course of the next several weeks.
“Once Bell didn’t sign and we know what he’s going to be in for this year as opposed to what he might have been in for under a different structure, now we have to say, ‘okay, this is what we have at this point. How are we going to manage that?’”, Colbert said.
“I think that’s stuff that we will watch throughout the preseason. We know what we’re potentially dealing with”, he said, but acknowledged that predictable expenditures like the practice squad players and contingencies such as injuries (like Jerald Hawkins) have to be weighed, even though only the top 51 players count right now.
Colbert acknowledged that because of Bell not signing a contract that would have lowered his cap hit, that could put some veterans on higher salaries in greater danger of not making the team. And there are players potentially in line for extensions to their contracts that they might not otherwise see if it results in an increased cap hit.
According to Over the Cap, the Steelers have about $5.5 million in cap space as it currently stands. That barely accounts for the additional expenditures of the 52nd and 53rd roster spots, the practice squad, injuries already sustained, and the necessity to take a buffer room of several million into the season to protect yourself against injuries, which are inevitable.
Bell has the second-largest cap hit on the team right now, behind only Ben Roethlisberger’s $23.2 million. Cameron Heyward, Haden, and Maurkice Pouncey also have cap hits north of $10 million, while Ryan Shazier’s fifth-year option of $8.7 million is another wrinkle to the story.