In what should be good news for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was just announced earlier this morning that the NFL has decided to extend the window during which teams are able to apply the franchise and/or transition tags to players. Previously, the window was scheduled to close on Thursday at 4PM. It will now close on Monday at just before noon. One second later, the ‘legal tampering’ window opens.
The NFLPA and NFL Management Council have agreed to extend the franchise/transition tag deadline to 11:59:59 a.m. ET Monday, per source. The negotiating window is scheduled to open 1 second later.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 10, 2020
The Steelers are expected to place the franchise tag on pending free agent Bud Dupree provided that they are unable to work out the details on a long-term contract by then. From the sounds of it, they are negotiating on a deal, but in these types of situations, it seems to be rare that one is completed in time, so the expectation is that he will be given the franchise tag.
The reason for the move is because teams will not know by Thursday whether or not the NFLPA will have voted to approve the Collective Bargaining Agreement proposal that is on the table. The voting for the proposal extends through the end of the week, so we will not know until at least Sunday morning whether the 2020 season will open under the terms of the current CBA or if the new one will be in place.
Which one is active is important, especially for teams who are close up against the salary cap, because there are additional regulations in place for seasons scheduled to be played under the final year of a CBA deal, designed to limit teams’ ability to exploit the potential for an ‘uncapped year’. Multiple teams were fined the last time this situation arose.
For the moment, the Steelers are estimated to have fewer than $2 million in cap space. The franchise tag for an edge defender is expected to be in the ballpark of $16 million. While they will have to release multiple players in order to apply the tag and become cap-compliant by the time the new league year begins next Tuesday afternoon, if there is a new CBA in place, they may be able to spare a player or two.
Among the tools at their disposal if a new CBA is in place is the ability to restructure contracts without the hindrance of the 30 percent rule, which would allow them to restructure player contracts by, for example, converting the entirety of their 2020 base salary down to the minimum value for their level of accrued seasons into a signing bonus, which can then be spread out over up to five seasons.
One possibility that now becomes more favorable is getting Cameron Heyward signed to a new deal in time for Tuesday, similar to how Maurkice Pouncey was signed early. Other than for quarterbacks, the Steelers typically do not negotiate on extensions until June or later, up through to the start of the regular season.