As the days tick by and we get closer and closer to the start of the NFL new league year in about two weeks’ time, we get closer and closer to knowing what the financial situation is going to be like—and we also get a better sense of what the Pittsburgh Steelers might have to do in order to navigate the mess of a salary cap that they have on their hands.
One way or another, I think we can safely presume that something will get done with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at this point that leaves him as their starter for the 2021 season. The biggest real question remaining is whether or not they will be releasing anybody as salary cap casualties.
Interestingly, one name in this category that has been thrown around for years already is veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who is set to enter his fifth season with the club (and 12th in the NFL), and who has a substantial cap hit.
Although he is only scheduled to earn $7 million in base salary in 2021, with no roster bonus, he also carries $8,575,000 in prorated signing bonus money. When he signed a two-year extension in 2019, which added $22 million in new money, it included a proportionally substantial signing bonus of nearly $14 million, with a $3 million roster bonus that was also prorated because of the timing of the deal.
So Haden’s total cap hit for this season clocks in at a pretty hefty $15,575,000, more than half of which is immovable. Only the $7 million base salary can be moved. But they would save that, minus displacement, if he were to be released. Is that realistic? Jeremy Fowler of ESPN addressed that topic on 93.7 The Fan recently.
“I know Joe Haden’s got the big cap hit, but those coaches, they feel a lot of comfort in him being on the back end for them”, he said of the 31-year-old. “I have a hard time thinking that they’re gonna cut him. Maybe they can work something out on his deal to lessen the cap hit, but I would be at least mildly surprised if they cut Joe Haden”.
Since signing with the Steelers in August of 2017, Haden has started 56 games, recording 10 interceptions, with 48 passes defensed. He also has 200 tackles with 11 tackles for loss, a sack, five hits, and two forced fumbles with one recovery. He returned one interception for a touchdown last season, just the second of his career.
While it would be tempting to take a swing at the salary cap deficit by chopping down Haden’s salary, it comes down to a cost-benefit analysis. How much worse are you making your secondary by cutting Haden? And what can you do with the cap space that you save? Obviously, they have two slot cornerbacks scheduled to be free agents, but they can realistically re-sign at least one of them without touching Haden.