2021 Offseason Questions: Has Team Approached Anybody About Taking Pay Cuts?

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: Have the Steelers asked any players to take a pay cut this offseason?

While the measure de jure so far this offseason has been teams creating or adding void years to deals in order to further spread out salary cap hits, another emerging trend among NFL teams in their effort to combat the salary cap crunch has been a little less savory: they have been straight up asking players to take pay cuts, with some of them being given opportunities to earn back some or all of their losses through incentives.

The Steelers got $5 million back from Ben Roethlisberger, who was owed $19 million, though they won’t actually get most of that relief this year, because they turned as much of his compensation as they could into a signing bonus and spread it out into four void years, so they’re only seeing $1 million in cap relief specifically from the pay cut itself.

The Buffalo Bills have approached a number of their players about taking pay cuts this year in an effort to help the front office retain some of their teammates as they look to build a team that could possibly take control of the AFC East. Reportedly, players have been receptive, though they have also been given incentives.

The Steelers pretty much never work with incentives in their contracts, and I’m not aware of any past instances, at least under Kevin Colbert, in which they have given a player the opportunity to earn back some of the money they took in a pay cut back.

That could complicate things in terms of getting players to agree to a pay cut, but it helps when “…or we’ll have to release you” is the alternative. Vince Williams would obviously be a leading candidate here, and would make the most sense. I suppose Joe Haden, Steven Nelson, or David DeCastro could also be listed as options. There’s not much to work with elsewhere.

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