Steelers 2020 Salary Cap Primer: Path To Getting Cap Compliant With Tag & Tenders

Right at two months from today the 2020 NFL league year will start and at that time all teams will need to be compliant with the Rule of 51 in regard to the salary cap. These next two months figure to include the Pittsburgh Steelers making quite a few moves in order to get salary cap compliment and especially if the team winds up needing to place the franchise tag on outside linebacker Bud Dupree.

With so much misinformation floating around on other sites concerning the Steelers current salary cap situation and the things the team will need to do to be compliant in two months, I thought I would set the record straight on this Friday evening and go over the first major set of hurdles the team will have between now and March 18, the start of the 2020 NFL league year.

For starters, below is a current snapshot of the Steelers salary cap situation for 2020 as we sit here two months out from the start of the 2020 NFL league year. The below snapshot is of the team’s Rule of 51 status and accounts for current expected salary cap rollover from 2019, an estimated NFL salary cap amount of $200 million, and an estimated OTA workout debt placeholder. All estimations below result in the Steelers being just $839,352 under a $200 million salary cap number as we sit here in the middle of January.

Projected Steelers 2020 Salary Cap Space (1/17/20)
Contracts 63
NFL Salary Cap $200,000,000
Team Carryover $3,081,389
Team Adjustment $0
Effective Cap $203,081,369
OTA Workout Debt $676,800
Top 51 Rule Spending $198,996,255
Practice Squad $0
Injured Reserve $0
Dead Money $2,568,962
Estimated Cap Space $839,352

Currently, most of us expect the Steelers to retain Dupree this offseason and if that’s the case and no new extension is signed by this year’s tag deadline, the team will need to place the franchise tag on their former first-round draft pick. Current projections have that franchise tag amount at $16.266 million. As of the middle of January, the Steelers obviously don’t have the salary cap space available to accommodate a franchise tag on Dupree.

In addition to them possibly placing the franchise tag on Dupree by March 10, the Steelers are also likely to issue a few restricted free agent tenders to at least three players in the coming weeks if none of them can be signed to contract extensions before the deadline. Those three main players likely to receive restricted tenders by March 18 are cornerback Mike Hilton, tackle Matt Feiler and tackler Zach Banner. Hilton and Feiler might both receive second-round restricted tenders, currently projected to be $3.278 million each, while Banner is likely to receive an original round restricted tender, currently expected to be $2.144 million.

The amount of those restricted tenders is $8.7 million and when combined with an expected franchise tag for Dupree in the amount $16.266 million, you a total of $24.966 million prior to roster displacement, which is quite a daunting figure when you consider that team currently has just $839,352 in available salary cap space in the middle of January,

Obviously the Steelers will need to clear quite a bit of salary cap space in the next two months if they are going to need to accommodate the Dupree tag and the three restricted tenders outlined above. As I’ve already written quite a few times since October, there’s a good chance that guard Ramon Foster, outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, and inside linebacker Mark Barron will all have their contracts terminated by March 18, the start of the 2020 new league year. In order to make a clean roster displacement of those three players, below is table that shows cap savings related to Foster, Chickillo and Barron being terminated as well as the costs associated with placing restricted free agent tenders on Hilton, Feiler and Banner. Those three-for-three transactions would result in an overall cap savings of $5.55 million.

Pre-New Year Cuts & Tenders
Terminations Cap Savings
Anthony Chickillo $5,000,000
Ramon Foster $4,000,000
Mark Barron $5,250,000
Total $14,250,000
Restricted Tenders Cap Charge
Mike Hilton $3,278,000
Matt Feiler $3,278,000
Zach Banner $2,144,000
Total $8,700,000
Savings $5,550,000

So, what does a revised Rule of 51 look like with Dupree tagged, Hilton, Feiler and Banner restricted tendered at the estimated amounts and the contracts of Foster, Chickillo and Banner all terminated? $9,366,648 over an estimated $200 million salary cap number so obviously more cap massaging will be needed.

Many misinformed seen to think that merely restructuring a contract or two between now and the start of the new league year in March will get the job done for the Steelers. While that sounds good in theory, the 30 percent rule in the CBA makes it incredibly tough for the Steelers to free up much 2020 salary cap space via NORMAL contract restructures practices they’ve used in the past. I’ve outlined these 30 percent rules several times in the last couple of months yet so many other sites seem to still get the principle of it wrong and especially when it comes to restructured contracts.

In short, and barring a CBA extension happening in the next few months, below are the max amounts of 2020 salary cap space the Steelers can clear via normal contract restructures. I would show you the exact math on this, but thankfully Ian Whetstone already has on Twitter since my last update. Yes, there are unconventional ways available to free up more per player listed below, but with that, there’s no evidence or reason to believe the Steelers will choose to go those routes.

As you can see in the table below, the max traditional restructure amount totals that adhere to 30 percent rule is $9,608,974 and that amount would obviously cover the $9,366,648 overage listed above. Will, however, the Steelers go the route of restructuring all, or most of, the players listed below? I’m unsure, honestly. The best case scenario would be for a CBA extension to happen soon so that the Steelers could realize more 2020 cap savings via restructures. Heck, they could free up almost $10 million alone with a full restructure for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger if there weren’t a 30 percent rule to adhere to.

Player 2020 Cap Savings
Ben Roethlisberger $3,192,308
Stephon Tuitt $1,384,615
David DeCastro $1,009,615
Steven Nelson $951,923
Maurkice Pouncey $923,077
Joe Haden $807,692
Vance McDonald $738,462
Vince Williams $461,538
Roosevelt Nix $138,462
Chris Boswell $1,282
Max Restructure Totals $9,608,974

The Steelers could obviously choose to not pick up the 2020 option on tight end Vance McDonald by March 18 and in doing so that would free up $5.6725 million in 2020 salary cap space prior to roster displacement. Going that route, however, could leave the team with a gaping hole at the tight end postilion prior to the draft. Additionally, the Steelers could decide to terminate the contracts of a few other players such as defensive tackle Daniel McCullers, defensive end Tyson Alualu and fullback Roosevelt Nix to free up a little more 2020 salary cap space by March 18. Going that route, however, would seriously gut quality depth for very marginal cap relief per player after roster displacement. Just so you know, cutting those three players would result in just $3.7325 million in salary cap space relief after roster displacement. That’s not a lot.

The Steelers could also sign defensive tackle Cameron Heyward to a contract extension between now and the start of the new league in March. That said, the 30 percent rule would potentially limit the amount of 2020 salary cap space saved. In short, maybe around $3 million in 2020 salary cap space can be saved by getting Heyward signed to an extensive in the next eight weeks.

Obviously, and as mentioned earlier in this post, the Steelers do have time to work out a contract extension with Dupree prior to needing to use the franchise tag on him. Even so, like Heyward, a long term deal for Dupree pre any kind of CBA extension would result in not a huge amount of salary cap savings in 2020 versus what his tag amount would be. There would be savings, however, just the same.

Please be advised that all of the work and processes above only get the Steelers to March 18 and just within cap compliance with only Dupree tagged and three restricted free agents tendered. Once the new year arrives so does the start of unrestricted free agency, something the Steelers aren’t likely to be big players in this offseason for obvious reasons.

Once past March 18 cap compliance, the Steelers will have other cap room obstacles to overcome before the start of the 2020 regular season. The team will still need to budget for a practice squad ($1.428 million), a 2020 draft class post roster displacement ($1.25 million) as well as a 52nd and 53rd player ($1.02 million). If that’s not enough, the team is probably going to want to go into the 2020 regular season with roughly $6 million in available salary cap space to use as emergency reserves. In short, roughly another $10 million in salary cap space COULD be needed after the start of the new league year in March.

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