With the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 season way behind us now, it’s time to start looking ahead to the offseason business at hand and particularly to the team’s 2019 salary cap situation. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the Steelers are currently in fairly good shape salary cap wise for 2019 and that’s thanks mostly to running back Le’Veon Bell deciding to sit out the entire 2018 season. In this post we’ll look at where the Steelers are right now salary cap wise with their Rule of 51 number and current dead money in addition to looking ahead at what figures to be another busy business offseason for the team.
Where are the Steelers currently with their Rule of 51?
We need a starting point for this look at the Steelers 2019 salary cap situation and so it’s best to work with the players they currently have under contract in relation to the Rule of 51 offseason procedure. The Rule of 51 means only the top 51 cap charges are counted along with any dead money and signing bonus amounts outside of the top 51. Thanks to a slew of offseason futures signings and a few one-year extensions to players who were set to become exclusive rights free agents in the coming weeks, the Steelers currently have 58 players under contract for the 2019 season and that makes a perfect starting point for us.
The total cap charges for the top 51 players currently under contract with the Steelers is $187,396,752. In addition to that, the Steelers currently have $251,517 in dead money on the books for 2019. If you add those two numbers together you get a total Top 51 amount of $187,648,269.
According to the NFLPA as of Tuesday morning, the Steelers have $18,248,921 in leftover salary cap space from the 2018 season that they can roll over to 2019 and we should fully expect them to do just that. That number will be finalized very soon but with no movement on that report since January 12, that might be the final number for 2018. Several NFL insiders are already projecting that the 2019 NFL salary cap number will be $190 million per team so we’ll work off that number for the sake of this exercise. In short, the Steelers projected adjusted salary cap number is $208,248,921 ($190M + $18,248,921). As you can see, the Steelers are currently $20,600,652 under the cap based on the Rule of 51 figures presented so far in this exercise.
Immediate future charges that are known?
The Steelers will have several chargers coming their way this offseason that are easy to project.
WORKOUT BONUS ADJUSTMENT: All NFL teams will have an adjustment of $676,800 made to their salary cap during the offseason as a team workout bonus placeholder. That number is the total amount of CBA mandated workout bonuses that could be earned by the players during in the offseason. Once training camp begins, the placeholder debit amount will be removed, and the actual amount of workout bonuses earned by the players will be charged to team’s cap numbers
PROVEN PERFORMANCE ESCALATOR: The Proven Performance Escalator (PPE), which allows lower draft picks (3rd through 7th rounds) to receive an upgraded salary in their fourth season if they reach certain playtime percentage averages during their first three seasons in the league, was put into place in the 2011 CBA. That upgraded salary amount is the equivalent of a low restricted free agent tender. The Steelers currently have one player drafted in 2016 that is eligible for a PPE in 2019 and that’s defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Currently, the low restricted tender amount for 2019 is around $2.045 million and the official amount will be known by the middle of March when the 2019 new league year begins. In short, at some point between now and the start of the new league year we should see Hargrave’s 2019 cap charge increases by roughly $1.325 million.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENT TENDERS: The Steelers are set to have two restricted free agents this offseason and they are offensive lineman B.J. Finney and tight end Xavier Grimble. Of those two players, Finney is probably the only one that will receive a restricted tender from the Steelers and that will likely be the right of first refusal variety that will carry a price tag of around $2.045 million. If the Steelers were to give Finney a second-round restricted tender, instead, the amount of that would be around $3.124 million. Grimble will more than likely be allowed to test free agency untendered and could be re-signed back for the minimum. Top 51 roster displacement for a low Finney tender will be a little more than $1.5 million in cap space.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENT TENDERS: The Steelers have already re-signed long snapper Kameron Canaday, safety Jordan Dangerfield and tackle Zach Banner, all of whom were scheduled to be exclusive rights free agents this offseason. Unsigned still, however, are scheduled exclusive rights free agents: cornerback Mike Hilton, tackle Matt Feiler, tight end Jake McGee, safety Malik Golden, linebacker Keith Kelsey and offensive lineman Joseph Cheek. Hilton and Feiler are likely to receive minimum salary exclusive rights tenders while the other four players might not be re-signed until fully healthy as all of them spent the entire 2018 season on the Steelers Reserve/Injured list. The combined offset amounts for these exclusive rights tenders won’t be very much at all, but please keep in mind that a few are sure to eat up a tiny bit of cap space just the same.
TOLLING CONTRACTS: Currently, we should still expect the 2018-year contracts of both wide receiver Eli Rogers and linebacker Ryan Shazier to toll this offseason due to them spending too much time on the team’s Reserve/PUP list last season. Even though Rogers was finally activated to the 53-man roster late in the season, his contract is still likely to toll. Rogers’ contract is expected to toll in 2019 at $720,000 while Shazier’s is expected to toll at $805,000. If both those tollings happen, they will result in roster displacement of around $535,000.
The total estimated cap charge costs of the above items are roughly right around $4.3 million.
Possible re-signing some unrestricted free agents:
Not counting Rogers and Shazier, the Steelers currently have 14 players set to become unrestricted free agents at the start of the new league in March. That list of players includes Bell, guard Ramon Foster, tight end Jesse James, defensive end Tyson Alualu, defensive end L.T. Walton, punter Jordan Berry, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, cornerback Coty Sensabaugh, wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, wide receiver Justin Hunter, running back Stevan Ridley, safety Nat Berhe, linebacker L.J. Fort. Bell is the biggest question mark of the group and he would obviously carry the biggest price tag if franchise or transition tagged. Personally, I think the Steelers would be wise to just let him walk. Of the other free agents, only James, Foster and maybe Alualu are worth re-signing over minimum salary amount. Of the rest of the players on the list, if the Steelers wish to re-sign them, they should be given one-year minimum salary benefit contracts that come with a reduced salary cap charge. In short, and if Bell is not one of them, the players re-signed off this list shouldn’t heavily impact the team’s 2019 salary cap situation.
Possible pre-new league year cuts:
The Steelers are likely to cut a few players from their roster ahead of the start of the new league year in March. The two prime candidates to be cut are safety Morgan Burnett and tackle Marcus Gilbert. Cutting Burnett without designating him a post June 1 release would clear $3,633,332 in 2019 salary cap space prior to his displacement in the Rule of 51 while a release of Gilbert would free up another $4,915,103 in 2019 salary cap space prior to displacement. Burnett has a better chance of being a pre-new league year cut than Gilbert, who might be kept around through the summer, or longer. Cutting both players, however, would free up some nice cap space to spend on outside restricted free agents and help easily pay for the re-signing of the team’s other free agents not including Bell. Like it or not, the Steelers are probably not going to cut outside linebacker Bud Dupree, cornerback Artie Burns, linebacker Jon Bostic or kicker Chris Boswell during the offseason.
Possible contract extensions:
If things go like many expect they will in the next several weeks, the Steelers will sign quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a contract extension prior to the start of the new league year in March. Depending on the overall structure of such an extension, Roethlisberger’s 2019 cap charge could decrease by as much as nearly $8 million. That’s obviously tough to determine right now but at least we should have our answer by the start of the new league year. After Roethlisberger signs an extension, Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey is likely to sign one as well but that might not happen until after the team reports to training camp. Pouncey’s 2019 cap charge might even drop as much as $2-$3 million by the time the ink has dried on his extension later this summer, depending on the structure of the deal. Hargrave and safety Sean Davis are two other players that the Steelers might decide to extend later in the summer as well. Even if those two were to receive extensions, such deals aren’t likely to greatly impact the 2019 salary cap and should be more than covered by whatever cap savings the team incurs via a Roethlisberger extension.
Will the Steelers wind up trading wide receiver Antonio Brown this offseason? If they do, such a deal is likely to happen before he’s due his $2.5 million roster bonus in the middle of March. If the Steelers do decide to deal Brown during that short span of time, the team would clear $1.045 million in 2019 salary cap space prior to roster displacement in doing so.
2019 Draft Class:
Currently, the Steelers are scheduled to have seven selections in the 2019 NFL Draft and that could obviously change at any point between now and the annual event. Based on the selections they’re currently scheduled to have, the Steelers have an early estimated rookie pool amount of $6,316,823, according to Over the Cap. After roster displacement takes place for those seven draft selections, the Steelers will use up roughly and nearly another $3 million in salary cap space once all players are signed. Once again, figures in this section are estimated but we should have a much clearer picture once the new league starts and the official cap number is known.
52nd and 53rd roster spots and full practice squad:
The rule of 51 will go away come the start of the regular season so the Steelers will need to account for a 52nd and 53rd player at some point in addition to a 10-player practice squad. Even if those two players wind up being of the minimum salary variety ($495,000) that’s almost $1 million more and almost another $1.3 million for a full practice squad. In short, plan to budget for $2.5 million in additional cap charges, at a minimum, when it comes to those extra players.
In-season cap space:
How much salary cap space will the Steelers want to have at the start of the regular season for in-season moves and such? Probably $4-5 million at a minimum.
Contract restructure candidates?
Should the Steelers decide they need to free up a little more salary cap space this offseason, they might decide to restructure a contract or two. Obvious immediate candidates for such restructures to free up cap space would be guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt due to both have the most time remaining on their current contracts. Here’s to hoping they don’t have to go that route this offseason, however.
Steelers 2019 offseason salary cap and business at hand outlook summary:
As you should be able to clearly see by all the information presented in this post, the Steelers should be in fine shape this offseason when it comes to their salary cap situation. In fact, if the Roethlisberger extension happens in the next seven weeks and both Burnett and Gilbert are cut prior to the middle of March, the Steelers will very easily have enough cap space to attack outside free agents the hardest they ever had in distant memory. This includes re-signing their own restricted free agents and restricted tendering Finney. The only thing that could throw a wrench in all of that is if the Steelers decide to place a franchise or transition tag on Bell in the coming weeks.
With the start of the new league year now seven weeks away, that’s when my next full salary cap update will happen. By then, we should have Roethlisberger’s extension numbers to work with in addition to knowing the tendered players and more likely amounts, which players have been cut, in addition to what the 2019 league-wide salary cap number will be. Please keep in mind that my projections are based on the 2019 NFL salary cap being $190 million. If the number comes in higher or lower than that, some other figures will need minor adjusting as well.
Some numbers and projected amounts for this salary cap update were acquired from overthecap.com, the NFLPA and former NFL agent Joel Corry. All three are great salary cap data resources.
|Steelers 2019 Salary Cap Numbers As Of 1/22/19|
|UNDER CONTRACT||BASE SALARY||CAP CHARGE|
|TOTAL PLAYERS UNDER CONTRACT||$124,399,959||$190,861,752|
|DEAD MONEY CHARGES|
|TOTAL DEAD MONEY||*||$251,517|
|RULE OF 51 TOTAL||*||$187,648,269|
|2018 ROLLOVER CAP SPACE||*||$18,248,921|
|ESTIMATED 2019 SALARY CAP||*||$190,000,000|
|UNDER ESTIMATED 2019 CAP||*||$20,600,652|