The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2020 season is now in the books, and it ended in spectacular fashion—though the wrong kind of spectacular—in a dismal postseason defeat at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, sending them into an early offseason mode after going 12-4 in the regular season and winning the AFC North for the first time in three years.
After setting a franchise record by opening the year on an 11-game winning streak, they followed that up by losing three games in a row, going 1-4 in the final five games, with only a 17-point comeback staving off a five-game slide. But all the issues they had in the regular season showed up in the postseason that resulted in their early exit.
The only thing facing them now as they head into 2021 is more questions, and right now, they lack answers. What will Ben Roethlisberger do, and what will they do with him? What will the salary cap look like? How many free agents are they going to lose? Who could they possibly afford to retain? Who might they part ways with—not just on the roster, but also on the coaching staff?
These are the sorts of questions among many others that we have been exploring on a daily basis and will continue to do so. Football has become a year-round pastime and there is always a question to be asked, though there is rarely a concrete answer, as I’ve learned in my years of doing this.
Question: Which veteran players are at the highest risk of being a salary cap casualty?
It might still be some time off before we have a clear understanding on exactly where the salary cap is going to be for the 2021 season, and as a result, there will be a lack of clarity on exactly what position the Steelers are in relative to it.
What we do know, however, is that they will have issues even becoming cap-compliant when factoring in the Rule of 51, because they don’t even have 51 players under contract. Restructures are an obvious mechanism, and possibly an extension or two could be swung to create more space, but if they want to actually do anything this year, the odds are good that somebody who is under contract won’t be come March.
Some of the notable names are tight ends Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron. It’s very difficult to picture both of them coming back. At best, it might be one or the other. Derek Watt could also be let go, but that doesn’t come with as much savings.
If they really want to make a dent in their salary cap, they may be crossing their fingers that Maurkice Pouncey indeed elects to retire, or they could possibly consider letting go of David DeCastro. Both are scheduled to earn $8 million in base salary or more and account for two of the largest possible savings targets on the roster.