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2021 Offseason Questions: Are Cap Casualties Coming, And Who Would Be Most Realistic ‘Surprise’ Cut?

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: With reports coming in indicating that the 2021 salary cap is going to be below $185 million, will the Steelers opt to release any veteran players, and who would be the most realistic ‘surprise’ candidate—not including Ben Roethlisberger?

It’s been known for some time now that the 2021 salary cap was not going to be as robust as it could have been had, you know, the past year not happened. But it did happen, and among many other consequences from the past 12 month’s events are the financial ones, which for our purposes will be reflected in the salary cap under which the Steelers and every other NFL team will have to operate.

Right now, it’s been predicted that the salary cap will drop roughly $15 million from where it was in 2020, going from $198.2 million to somewhere in the ballpark of $182 million, give or take a couple million. That’s more than it could have been—the agreed upon floor was $175 million—but still less than hoped for.

Given the cards that are dealt, the Steelers will have a lot of work to do, which will include restructures of some form for Stephon Tuitt and Ben Roethlisberger. There are a couple of players who could possible by candidates for extensions that could reduce their cap number, like Steven Nelson.

But the possibility very much exists that they will opt to release a veteran player or two in order to ‘pay their bills’, so to speak. Vince Williams’ name has been thrown around a lot in such conversations. David DeCastro and Joe Haden also come up. Beyond that, it’s hard to see any other realistic possibilities. Eric Ebron? They still need a tight end. Cameron Heyward? Just stop it. And people thought they were going to sign J.J. Watt…

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