If you follow along with us on a daily basis, then you should have a pretty good feel for where the Pittsburgh Steelers sit these days, including, among other things, with respect to the salary cap. While they made some signings and re-signings that pushed them close back to the drink, the release of Steven Nelson and a restructure of the contract of Eric Ebron gave them considerable breathing room.
In fact, according to Dave Bryan’s most recent cap breakdown following the Ebron move, the Steelers are anticipated to be $12,235,086 under the salary cap. That sounds like a nice bit of change—but of course, there are those pesky predictable expenditures.
For starters, there are the 52nd and 53rd roster spots, and an entire practice squad. Those two things combined will eat up close to $3.5 million. Then there is the eight-man draft class. Their draft pool comes in at $8 million—but down worry. Roster displacement is a beautiful thing, and will wipe out nearly $5.9 million from that cost based on the current roster.
That still leaves plenty of money leftover then, though, doesn’t it? At worst, there should be something like $7 million, right? Surely they can actually spend some of that? Well, yes, especially in light of the fact that they are still likely to do a restructure for Stephon Tuitt later in the offseason.
But it’s the in-season cache that teams must have for the unpredictable expenditures that leave the rest of the unaccounted for cap space spoken for. As the cap rises, and minimum salaries increase, the in-season coffers have to rise as well. More recently, the team has preferred to leave at least $5-6 million in salary cap space heading into the year. Why so much?
Well, you never know. Just look at recent seasons. In 2019, they made two in-season trades, for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and tight end Nick Vannett. These were pure cost, without even roster displacement, because they were replacing players—Sean Davis and Xavier Grimble, respectively—who were placed on injured reserve, and who still receive their salary
Last year, they made another trade, for linebacker Avery Williamson. And starting with the 2020 season, the latest CBA introduced practice squad elevations, which allow teams to activate up to two players per game to the gameday active roster as 54th and 55th men on the roster. While they revert back to the practice squad the following day, they receive the equivalent of a game’s pay as though they were on the 53-man roster.
And any player who goes on the injured reserve list has to have his roster spot filled by somebody else, who will be making at least a minimum salary while that player on reserve also gets paid. You can call things such as this unpredictable predictable expenses. You can expect that injuries will occur, but you can’t forecast them.
That’s why when you look at Dave’s breakdown and you see so much money reserved for in-season spending, it’s a necessary practice. If you don’t, then you have to do some in-season contract restructuring, which even the Steelers have resorted to on very rare occasions.