The Pittsburgh Steelers will start their 2020 regular season exactly one month from today and with that, now is a perfect time to look at the team’s salary cap situation. This quick look at the team’s current salary cap situation should give everyone a clearer idea of the work that lies ahead for general manager Kevin Colbert in the next 30 days in light of there being quite a bit of false information being circulated on other sites.
Current Salary Cap Snapshot:
As of today, Friday, August 14, the NFLPA is currently behind a few moves when it comes to the Steelers and their salary cap situation. They have the Steelers with 85 players currently under contract and $4,573,643 under the cap. My recap of the team’s salary cap situation that you see below is current as of Friday and has the team with 80 players under contract. I have the team being roughly just a little under $4 million under the salary cap.
|Projected Steelers 2020 Salary Cap Space (Rule of 51) (8/14/2020)|
|NFL Salary Cap||$198,200,000|
|OTA Workout Debt Placeholder||$676,800|
|Top 51 Rule Contracts||$187,743,886|
|Estimated Cap Space||$3,952,310|
Charges That Lied Ahead:
Currently, the NFL is still working under the Rule of 51 and that will continue to be the case until Week 1 officially starts on September 8. Come that time, the Steelers will need to accommodate a 52nd and 53rd player under their cap number, which will be a minimum amount of $1.22 million. Additionally, the Steelers will need to accommodate up to a 16-man practice squad under their cap number, which will be a minimum of $2.2848 million. So, combined, the Steelers need to earmark at least another $3.5048 million in cap space to go toward these two itemizations. Based on their current cap situation on August 14, that leaves them with roughly around $500,000 in cap space to start the 2020 season with, which is not nearly enough.
At worst, one would think the Steelers will want around $5 million in available salary cap space to work with come the start of the 2020 regular season and especially with all the uncertainly that surrounds the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. This, at least, $5 million in available salary cap space would go toward in-season roster moves and possibly free agent signings should they be needed. In short, the Steelers need to create at least another $4.5 million in salary cap space in the next four weeks.
Creating More Cap Space:
Contract Terminations: The Steelers will obviously be trimming their roster down to 53 active players and a 16-man practice squad within the next four weeks. When those final cut-downs happen, they’re unlikely to include any big names. Sure, players such as defensive tackle Daniel McCullers and punter Jordan Berry could plausibly be cut before the start of the regular season but even if such moves are ultimately, made only $2.08 million in salary cap space would be created after roster displacement takes place and only if the two players replacing them on the 53 are minimum salaried players. Personally, I don’t see either player being cut as we sit here with four weeks to go. In short, don’t expect the final roster cuts to produce very much cap space.
Contract Extensions: If the Steelers sign any players to contract extensions in these next four weeks their likeliest candidate is defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. Heyward is currently scheduled to count $13,251,250 against the cap in 2020 with $3,751,250 of that being previous bonus prorations. A realistic and fair market contract extension for Heyward could free up around $3 million in 2020 salary cap space. Obviously, a lot of it will depend on the structure of the extension and how much is fully guaranteed at signing, if indeed he is inked to a new deal in the next four weeks. Personally, I still fully expect an extension for Heyward. The only thing I’m not sure about is how much cap space will be created by an extension because of there being so many variables involved. A max of $3 million, however, according to my calculations, is plausible.
Contract Restructures: There’s a good chance that the Steelers restructure at least one more contract in the next four weeks to free up additionally salary cap space for 2020. Yes, even though the team already restructured the contracts of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey, tight end Vance McDonald, kicker Chris Boswell, cornerback Joe Haden and cornerback Steven Nelson earlier in the offseason to create 2020 salary cap space, at least one more is likely to happen before the start of the regular season.
The two players who are the best candidates for restructures this late in the offseason are guard David DeCastro and defensive end Stephon Tuitt. A maximum restructure of DeCastro’s contract would produce $3.85 million in 2020 salary cap space while a maximum restructure of Tuitt’s contract would produce another $5,393,333 in 2020 salary cap space. With Tuitt having his contract restructured the last two seasons, and combined with his injury history, the smarter move for the Steelers might be to just do DeCastro and especially if an extension with Heyward that produces some sort of salary cap relief also takes place in the next four weeks. Restructuring the contract of DeCastro now would also make sense if the team has plans to sign him to an extension next offseason.
Summary & Final Thoughts: The Steelers will need to create some extra salary cap space in the next few weeks. How much is unknown, however. We could see both a Heyward extension and a restructure of a contract and I think the probability of that scenario is extremely high. If, however, an extension with Heyward can’t be finalized, you can count on at least one contract restructure happening with DeCastro being the most likely candidate for that. While Tuitt is also a candidate, I will be a bit surprised if he’s chosen for the reasons mentioned above.
These forthcoming moves or move are likely still several weeks away from happening, however. For starters, there’s no rush even though the start of the regular season is now a month away as the Steelers have plenty of salary cap space to work with in the meantime. Additionally, it’s important to make sure that Heyward, DeCastro and Tuitt all make it through the bulk of training camp injury-free before any contract adjustments are performed on them. That’s just being smart and limiting future risk while time is still in play.
Remember, unused salary cap space can be rolled over to the next year so expect the Steelers to make sure they have more than enough freed up to work with in 2020 come the start of the regular season. Cap room needs to be created in the next four weeks and it will be.