The Pittsburgh Steelers will have to weigh a number of heavy questions regarding both their immediate and future finances as the near league year approaches in a few months. Of course, they have hopefully plenty of on-field business to take care of first, but the financial realities are on their way.
There is some uncertainty over what exactly it will look like. The salary cap will be at least $175 million, which is nearly $25 million less than it has been this season, but if the league negotiates at least one new broadcasting deal and enacts their right to expand the regular season to 17 games in time for the 2021 season, that could have a significant effect on the salary cap and see it approach at flat status.
Among the questions that they will have to weight is not the most urgent, but one they will have to consider, and it’s one that takes on new weight this year in comparison to others: the fifth-year option for first-rounders. With the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade, they have two decisions to make, but that one is, of course, a no-brainer.
But what about the other one? Terrell Edmunds’ fifth-year option will also be up to be exercised, and starting with the 2018 NFL Draft class, the fifth-year option becomes fully guaranteed as soon as it’s picked up. Previously, it was only guaranteed for injury prior to the start of the new league year of the option year, when it becomes fully guaranteed.
In other words, they have to feel very strongly about Edmunds’ ability to play at a high level in 2022 by the middle of the Spring of 2021, because they won’t be able to release him prior to the start of the 2022 league year in order to recoup that money.
NFL analyst Gil Brandt comes down in favor of the Steelers exercising the option. “Owning Pittsburgh’s fourth-best coverage grade, per PFF, Edmunds has a career-high two picks and eight passes defensed this season”, he writes. “The Steelers will give him a chance to continue building chemistry with Minkah Fitzpatrick”.
Edmunds has struggled to become a playmaker over the course of his career, but he did expand his resume a bit in 2020, with a two-interception game, and also his second career sack. His eight passes defensed are also twice as much as he had in any other season.
It’s worth keeping in mind that, as I write this, he is actually still just 23 years old. He will turn 24 on January 20. In other words, he is still quite young with plenty of room to continue to grow. As much as they would probably love to keep their safety tandem together, however, the financial realities may make it prohibitive to do so.
Even if they don’t pick up his option—and now that it’s instantly fully guaranteed, this will probably become more common—that doesn’t mean he’ll be shown the door. There are a number of examples of players who did not have their option picked up but later re-signed with the team that drafted them.