‘Cap Hell’ Theory Becomes A Fiction Under New CBA If Steelers Can Restructure Deals Without 30 Percent Rule

Yesterday, I took at look at something of a doomsday scenario as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ability to create cap space is concerned. Needless to say, their options are quite limited if there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement, as the rules of a final year of a CBA include the 30 percent rule, which directly impacts their favorite means of creating cap space: restructuring deals by converting pay to signing bonuses that can be spread out over time.

I showed yesterday that even ‘maxing out’ the six most flexible contracts for renegotiation, including Ben Roethlisberger, Stephon Tuitt, and David DeCastro, would barely even yield enough for half of what it would cost to put the franchise tag on Bud Dupree.

But as I mean to show today, the Steelers can actually do quite a lot more via simple restructuring, should that be the path they opt to take, should the new CPA be approved by the NFLPA. That is a pretty important point to emphasize, since it’s as likely as not to actually pass, meaning this is as likely a situation the team will actually be facing as the less cheery one.

I posted up a chart of the possible restructures and savings under the 30 percent rule for Roethlisberger, Tuitt, DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Joe Haden, and Steven Nelson, all of the players who are under contract for at least two more seasons and whose 2020 earnings eclipse at least $8 million. I will use those same contracts to show how much more space they could create without the 30 percent rule.

Player 2020 Compensation Minimum By Years Maximum Restructure Years Remaining Cap Savings
Ben Roethlisberger $21,000,000 $1,050,000 $19,950,000 2 $9,975,000
Stephon Tuitt $9,000,000 $1,050,000 $7,950,000 3 $5,300,000
David DeCastro $8,750,000 $1,050,000 $7,700,000 2 $3,850,000
Joe Haden $7,000,000 $1,050,000 $5,950,000 2 $2,975,000
Steven Nelson $8,250,000 $910,000 $7,340,000 2 $3,670,000
Maurkice Pouncey $8,000,000 $1,050,000 $6,950,000 2 $3,475,000
Total $29,245,000

There is, needless to say, a substantial difference. Under the 30 percent rule, the maximum amount of cap space they would be able to create through this six contracts is $8,269,231. Without the 30 percent rule, the same contracts could be restructured to create a maximum amount of an additional $29,245,000 in cap space. That is a difference of $20,975,769.

The big prize would of course be Roethlisberger’s deal, individually creating nearly $10 million by converting the entirety of a $12.5 million roster bonus and nearly $7.5 million of his $8.5 million base salary into a signing bonus. That can then be spread out over his two remaining years.

As you see, though, the amount that you save in cap space for 2020 is also the same amount of space that you push into future years, and in the cases of these contracts in particular, that is almost entirely going directly against the 2021 cap, since only Tuitt is under contract beyond the next two years.

The Steelers structure their contracts in such a way that gives them maximum flexibility to move money around if and only if they need it. Other teams give substantially more in signing bonuses, thus lower amounts of actual base salary, which locks in large amount of money into year year’s salary cap that are non-negotiable.

Usually, this works out for the better for the Steelers, because they can tier deals one on top of another to complement them. When one older deal has a high cap hit, a newer deal will have a lower one. The ‘cap hell’ only arises when things outside of their control, like whether or not the league and union allow a CBA to lapse into its final season, interfere.

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