The Pittsburgh Steelers will likely need to do a little salary cap massaging this offseason and especially if they have plans to keep outside linebacker Bud Dupree in the fold. While several player cuts can be made between now and the start of the 2020 new league year to help accommodate an initial franchise tag charge on Dupree, don’t count on the team doing much in the way of offseason contract restructures to free up a lot of additional salary cap space unless a CBA extension is worked out in the very immediate future.
The 30 percent rule that is included in the current NFL CBA has already been needed to be worked around in player contracts for a few years now and especially the closer the league gets to a currently uncapped 2021 season. Below is the 30 percent rule verbatim from the CBA.
Section 7. 30% Rules:
(a) No NFL Player Contract extending into a season beyond the Final League Year may provide for an annual increase in Salary, excluding any amount attributable to a signing bonus as defined in Section 6(b)(iii) above, of more than 30% of the Salary provided for in the Final League Year, per year, either in the season after the Final League Year or in any subsequent season covered by the Player Contract.
(b) Any amount which a Club may pay to a player to buy out a right the player has or may have to terminate one or more contract years shall be treated as signing bonus at the time the buyout is exercised by the Club, and prorated at that time over the remaining term of the contract, including the current League Year, if the right to
terminate and/or the right to buyout is based upon one or more incentives that are not “likely to be earned.” Such a buyout amount shall not be included in any calculation for purposes of the 30% Rule, set forth above. (The parties acknowledge a disagreement as to the treatment of allocated signing bonus and buyout payments when a player’s right to terminate one or more contract years and/or the Club’s right to buyout is based upon one or more incentives that are “likely to be earned,” and not upon any incentives that are not “likely to be earned.” These issues are expressly left open. Except to enforce the terms of this Subsection (b), the terms of this Subsection may not be referred to or used by any of the parties in any proceeding, or otherwise, and the parties otherwise reserve all their rights with respect to the subject of this parenthetical.).
(c) Any amount specified to be paid for the exercise of an option by a Club to extend the term of a Player Contract shall be treated as signing bonus, prorated over
the remaining term of the contract commencing in the League Year in which it is exercised or the last League Year in which the option may be exercised, whichever comes
first. Such an option amount shall, immediately upon execution of the contract, renegotiation or extension, be included in any calculation for purposes of the 30% Rule, set forth above, prorated over the remaining term of the contract commencing in the last League Year in which the option may be exercised. Notwithstanding the foregoing: (i) if a Club renounces its right to exercise the option, the option amount shall not be included in Team Salary as of the date of such renunciation; and (ii) if the club does not renounce, but nonetheless does not exercise the option, the full amount of the option amount previously counted against Team Salary shall be credited to the Club’s Salary Cap in the next League Year.
What does all of the mumbo jumbo above mean? Basically that all contract structures can’t have year-to-year total salary increases of more than 30 percent moving forward. Bonus proration doesn’t count in this so thus teams that restructure due yearly salaries or other bonus amounts such as roster and workout ones, have to be mindful of the 30 percent rule.
Let’s look at the contract of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and apply the 30 percent rule to it as part of a normal restructure.
|Ben Roethlisberger’s Contract|
|Year||Base Salary||Bonus Proration||Roster Bonus||Cap Charge|
Roethlisberger is set to earn $19 million in 2021 (base plus roster bonus), so the lowest his pay out in 2020 can be after a restructure is $14,615,385 to keep his contract adhering to the 30 percent rule. That means that only $6,384,615 of the $21 million that Roethlisberger is scheduled to earn in 2020 can be turned into a signing bonus as part of a normal restructure. And with just two years left on Roethlisberger’s contract to spread out the $6,384,615 bonus, the Steelers only stand to clear $3,192,308 in 2020 salary cap space by restructuring it the way they usually would.
While the Steelers might ultimately decide it’s worth it to restructure Roethlisberger’s contract to free up almost $3.2 million in 2020 salary cap space, he might be the only player to go through that massaging mechanism this offseason. While the contracts of defensive end Stephon Tuitt, guard David DeCastro, cornerback Steven Nelson, center Maurkice Pouncey, cornerback Joe Haden and inside linebacker Vince Williams might all be considered candidates to be restructured this offseason to clear up 2020 salary cap space, adhering to the 30 percent rule and doing the max for each player would only produce a total cap relief of $5,538,460 for all six. Four of those players, Nelson, Pouncey, Haden and Williams, would each provide restructured contract salary cap relief in 2020 of less than one million per player. In short, it’s not really worth it to restructure those four players, in my honest opinion.
Roethlisberger’s $12.5 million roster bonus is due in March. The Steelers, however, won’t necessarily need to restructure his contract by then due to the 30 percent rule limitations. Even so, if the Steelers were to deem needing an extra nearly $3.2 million in 2020 salary cap space by the start of the new league year in March, a restructure in late February or early March would likely transpire. Beyond Roethlisberger, however, it’s hard to envision any other contract restructures taking place this offseason barring a CBA extension happening soon.