The Pittsburgh Steelers have a bit of a pickle to deal with, it’s fair to say, and it’s called the salary cap in 2021. Under ordinary circumstances, it would probably come in anywhere between $205-210 million, rising above the $200 million mark for the first time in history.
Instead, signs point to it regressing from its mark of just over $198 million from the 2020 season. In fact, some reports have had it coming in as low as $180 million, and it could ultimately come in at $175 million, which was the cap floor that the NFL and the NFLPA agreed upon last year.
The tumultuous salary cap situation, of course, was caused by the global pandemic triggered by Covid-19, which continues to affect our everyday lives, and the life of business in the NFL heading into the 2021 calendar. It has already been announced that the NFL Scouting Combine will not take place, for example, with teams relying instead on Pro Day events.
The Steelers will be among the most hard-hit teams by the plunge the salary cap is expected to take, a fact that president Art Rooney II acknowledged earlier today in speaking to the media. He made it very clear, for example, that they cannot bring back quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on his current contract.
“It’s fair to say this will be the most difficult salary cap challenge that we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever”, Brooke Pryor of ESPN quotes him as saying, and frankly, he’s probably right.
Art Rooney acknowledges the Steelers are entering cap hell in a much more eloquent way than I just phrased their situation: “it’s fair to say this will be the most difficult salary cap challenge that we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever.”
— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) January 28, 2021
The Steelers have not been in a salary cap situation like this since 2011, the year after the ‘uncapped’ year of 2010, when the NFL and the NFLPA could not come to a resolution on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.
This resulted in the stalling of the salary cap, and when it was reimplemented, it actually reset to a point lower than it had been prior to the stall. Obviously this affected every team, giving them less room to work with, but the Steelers had to let go of a number of prominent players over the course of the following two to three seasons as a result.
We will see a similar occurrence this time around, and making matters worse is the fact that they have a number of ‘big’ names hitting the open market, including edge rusher Bud Dupree, wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, and cornerback Mike Hilton, among others.
Under ordinary conditions, the Steelers would be fine, when the cap is stable and rising as predicted, with the way that they tier their contracts and allow them to be altered through restructures as needed without locking themselves into fixed positions.
When the system has a hiccup like it has now, of course, that’s when a team like Pittsburgh that doesn’t leave itself with a ton of room from year to year gets in trouble. It might only happen once every decade or two, but when it does, it means difficult decisions have to be made.