The offseason is inevitably a period of projection and speculation, which makes it the ideal time to ponder the hypotheticals that the Pittsburgh Steelers will face over the course of the next year, whether it is addressing free agency, the draft, performance on the field, or some more ephemeral topic.
That is what I will look to address in our Buy or Sell series. In each installment, I will introduce a topic statement and weigh some of the arguments for either buying it (meaning that you agree with it or expect it to be true) or selling it (meaning you disagree with it or expect it to be false).
The range of topics will be intentionally wide, from the general to the specific, from the immediate to that in the far future. And as we all tend to have an opinion on just about everything, I invite you to share your own each morning on the topic statement of the day.
Topic Statement: The Steelers should not have restructured Vance McDonald’s contract.
Explanation: More than any other team in the league, the Steelers not only greatly utilize but plan on their ability to restructure player contracts when they originally write up those deals. It’s a tool that gives them maximum flexibility from year to year, but generally, you want to limit the players whose deals you restructure to your foundational players and those whom you know will consistently perform and will be around. While restructuring McDonald’s contract guarantees the team will keep him in 2020, it’s early to suggest he will make it beyond that.
This is a move comparable to signing Mark Barron before drafting Devin Bush, only it’s much more likely that they will be able to get tight end help than it was they were going to be able to trade up to 10 and that Bush would be there.
In no way did McDonald look like a tight end who is worth over $6 million last season, and they just added millions to his 2021 cap hit, when there is no guarantee he is going to even be on the team after this season. They are banking on a rebound for a vulnerable player when there are a number of better options for restructures, that would create more cap space, who are certainly not going anywhere any time soon.
While it’s generally preferred optically that players whose contracts are structured are those in whom you have a high degree of confidence will be around long-term and who will be high-level performers, the truth of the matter is that the salary cap doesn’t care where the money comes from. No matter whose money you move where, the effect remains the same.
In this case, the Steelers had few options for restructures among players with more than two years remaining on their deal, so that wasn’t a significant factor. The cap burden on 2021 wouldn’t have been different had other players been restructured.
Then there’s the fact that those other players may still be restructured. And on top of that, tied in with my original point in the sell section: whatever McDonald’s 2021 cap hit is won’t preclude the Steelers from releasing him if that is what they decide to do. Their cap situation would not be better or worse based on whether they restructured him or someone else who only had two years left on his deal. The only thing that would be different is that it would look bad because his hit would be in dead money, but that is a purely semantic, academic distinction.