Given the completely desolate landscape that is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason thus far—they have not made a single transaction since early January, and it wouldn’t shock me if they were the only team in the league about which that is true—it’s a bit hard to know what’s going on with the team, and what is about to happen.
But there will be an absolute flurry of activity next week, which is the first point at which they will know whether or not a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will be in place. They have the better part of a dozen unrestricted, restricted, and exclusive rights free agents that they would like to try to retain, and they have a number of veteran whose futures they also have to weigh.
Whether or not the new CBA proposal is approved is going to go a long way toward figuring out which players they will not have to release. Anthony Chickillo is by far the safest bet to be released, as a backup with a high salary. It’s appearing as though Ramon Foster is the next in line.
What about Mark Barron? Now we have two different beat writers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette seemingly holding the belief that he will remain. Ray Fittipaldo earlier suggested that his job was safer than Foster’s. now Gerry Dulac, in a chat yesterday said when asked if Barron (and Vance McDonald) will be back, that both of them will.
Barron signed a two-year, $12 million contract to become a starting inside linebacker for the Steelers last season. Upgrading the inside linebacker position was their stated number one priority, so they knew they had to address it in free agency with money to spend, but they also were able to acquire Devin Bush via the draft.
Given Bush’s clearly established presence as a starter and the fact that Vince Williams is still around—and wouldn’t come with much cap savings—many still believe that Barron will be a cap casualty. If Bush and Williams can start, and they can save over $5 million (prior to displacement) by releasing Barron, who would then be a backup, it’s hard to see them not doing that given their salary cap situation.
A later commenter in the chat asked Dulac how the Steelers would manage to retain Barron while still tagging Bud Dupree. “There are ways”, he said, naming a contract extension for Cameron Heyward that he estimates could shave a few million off the cap. “They can re-do other contracts and turn their salaries into signing bonuses”, he added.
They can, but as I explored yesterday, their options are pretty limited if there is no new CBA deal. From my point of view, the only way to save both Barron and McDonald is for there to be a new CBA that would allow them to restructure deals without the hindrance of the 30 percent rule. But it’s worth noting that multiple beat writers are of the belief that Barron isn’t going anywhere. They could be wrong, but it won’t be long before we find out for ourselves.