Considering the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers entered this offseason substantially over the salary cap, it can be viewed as somewhat remarkable what they were able to put together in March, particularly with respect to the players they were able to keep.
Of course, the centerpiece for their platform for the 2021 season was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and figuring out a way to make his contract workable. Recently, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert talked to Dan Sileo on The National Football Show, and touched on how that situation created a domino effect for them.
Colbert said that Roethlisberger came to the brain trust shortly after the season ended and made it very clear not only that he very much wanted to come back for this season—for which he was under contract—but also that he understood that in order to do so, he might have to give something back.
As you all well know by now, he ultimately accepted a flat compensation reduction of $5 million between his base salary and his due roster bonus as part of a restructuring package that also included the addition of four void years that spread out his previously-substantial cap hit of over $40 million.
“And really, it set off a nice precedent for some of our other veteran players that were able to come back to us, and, again, following Ben’s lead, we were able to keep some vets that we didn’t think, we might not be able to keep”, Colbert said.
That was far from the only move that they had to make, but that one piece of the puzzle helped create around $17 million in cap space, which certainly helped allow them to keep players like wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and defensive tackle Tyson Alualu in particular, the latter of whom had already agreed to a deal with another team before changing his mind.
Cornerback Cameron Sutton and tackle Zach Banner were the two other major ‘keeps’ for the team, but they also lost many, many players, from Bud Dupree and Steven Nelson to Maurkice Pouncey and James Conner and Alejandro Villanueva. David DeCastro was a recent surprise development that wasn’t tied to these original plans.
Outside of Trai Turner, who was brought in to replace DeCastro last month, the Steelers were still not very active in outside free agency. Of the six other outside free agents they’ve added this offseason, only one, Joe Haeg, was given more than a one-year, veteran minimum contract, which included a $1 million signing bonus.
But their focus is always on keeping their own, and they believe players like Sutton and Banner are going to be a part of their future. They’re gambling on both, but as they say, you have to play to win. And they may feel they’re playing with house money a bit, with Roethlisberger providing the house.