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: Will the Steelers release any players on the current roster as salary cap casualties?
While we await official news on what the 2021 salary cap will be, which will go a long way toward determining what the Steelers must do not only to become salary cap compliant but also to conduct their business—which includes re-signing pending free agents, signing outside free agents, extending contracts, employing a 53-man roster and at least a 14-man practice squad, and leaving millions left over for an in-season cushion, plus signing the 2021 draft class—speculation persists as to how the roster will differ between now and the middle of March.
Tight end Vance McDonald provided them with some help with his decision to retire, though he was likely to be a primary target for release to save salary cap space. If Maurkice Pouncey opts not to retire, he could also be a target for release, as could others such as Vince Williams and, to a lesser extent, Derek Watt, who don’t provide as much cap relief.
The Steelers don’t have as much wiggle room as they normally do, and owner Art Rooney II has acknowledged that this will probably be the most challenging offseason financially in their history, but they’ll find a way to get things done—even if it means potentially parting with some veterans.
Whether they have to take they route and how many players they might have to part with remains to be seen, and again, will be tied to what the cap number will be, but there’s a good chance it’s a number north of zero, particularly if Pouncey doesn’t retire, or if the cap comes in near or below $180 million.