Omar Khan has been something of a secret weapon for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the years. He has been with the organization since 2001, currently holding the title of Vice President of Football & Business Administration, but his primary function throughout his tenure has been figuring out the ways to massage the salary cap.
And this could be his most important offseason yet. The last time he has faced a challenge as significant as he is wading into now was roughly a decade ago, by coincidence, the time the last Collective Bargaining Agreement was being negotiated.
That time was bad for the salary cap. The new CBA shrunk the owner-player revenue split from roughly 50/50 to 53/47, and that was one of the reasons that the salary cap actually shrunk. As a result of this—ironically, the owners getting a bigger piece of the pie—they had less cap space to spend on improving their team, and this resulted in the Steelers having to release a number of players.
While this situation is not identical, the team’s particular circumstances this year bear a lot of similarity in terms of end result. With their stated desire to get Bud Dupree under contract, they are essentially committing to spending up to around $16 million to put the franchise tag on him.
Under the current projected salary cap, the Steelers are expected to currently have under $2 million in cap space. If they choose to release all of Mark Barron, Ramon Foster, Vance McDonald, and Anthony Chickillo, they would create a little under $18 million more in cap space, after displacement.
And so they would have somewhere in the ballpark but just short of $20 million in cap space, with over $16 million of it going to Dupree, which leaves under $4 million, with B.J. Finney set to hit free agency, and Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner all restricted free agents. Even an original-round tender is over $2 million.
Simply put, the Steelers don’t have enough cap space to get everything done that they want to, even while releasing three nominal starting players in the process. In short, it’s going to take some creative maneuvering from Khan and the front office to tag Dupree and still salvage some of their free agent pool and certain high-cap-hit veterans.
A new CBA being in place, which cancels out the 30 percent rule, would be a great help in that regard. Stephon Tuitt, despite his injury history, would become an obvious target for restructure. He has three years left on his contract and a $9 million base salary in 2020. With no 30 percent rule, they could create a couple million in cap space here. David DeCastro is in the exact same boat, with three years left and a $9 million base.