A little less than two months from today, the 2022 NFL league year will start and at that time all 32 teams will need to be compliant with the Rule of 51 regarding the salary cap. These next seven weeks figure to include the Pittsburgh Steelers making quite a few moves in order to get themselves ready for the start of the new league year. With so much misinformation already floating around on other sites concerning the Steelers current salary cap situation, I have once again started a new series this week to set the record straight on where the team is at and where they are likely to go financially throughout the offseason.
After already establishing a current snapshot of the Steelers salary cap situation for 2022 on Monday as Part 1 of this series, I will now move forward and look at legitimate and realistic options the team should have this offseason when it comes to creating salary cap space, should they deem such avenues necessary.
ROETHLISBERGER CONTRACT MODIFICATION – I have already addressed this in a separate post that you can read. In short, the remaining contract years that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has on his deal are set to void within one week after the Super Bowl concludes. If he surely is retiring and agrees to it, the Steelers could modify his contract and remove the void language soon. Doing so would allow Roethlisberger to officially be placed on the Reserve/Retired list after June 1.
Going this route with Roethlisberger would eventually free up $7.755 million in 2022 salary cap space prior to Top 51 roster displacement. That same amount, however, would then be on the 2023 books as dead money. How bad do the Steelers want that $7.755 million in 2022 salary cap space? We should get our answer to that question not long after the Super Bowl is played.
TRADITIONAL CONTRACT RESTRUCTURES – Will the Steelers need to restructure a few contracts this offseason to free up additional salary cap space for 2022? They might. If they do, there are really only three players that are candidates for traditional contract restructures, meaning no additional void years being added. That short list of players includes outside linebacker T.J. Watt, defensive tackle Cameron Heyward and cornerback Cameron Sutton.
A full restructure on Watt would create $17,223,750 in 2022 salary cap space, which is quite a lot. A full restructure on Heyward would create $6,586,667 in 2022 salary cap space. As for Sutton, there is $2,598,750 in 2022 salary cap space to be created should they do a full restructure on his contract. Of those three players, Heyward is due a roster bonus in March so a restructure on him would likely happen before that is paid. Watt and Sutton are not due roster bonuses early in the offseason so restructures on both of them can be done at any time before the 2022 regular season gets underway.
While Sutton is indeed an option, I will be a bit surprised if his contract is restructured this offseason. In summation, there is $26.409167 million in 2022 salary cap space to be had via realistic offseason contract restructures. We will find out if Heyward’s deal is one of those contracts restructured by the end of March.
CONTRACT TERMINATIONS – There’s a good chance that we could see a few contract terminations take place prior to the start of the new league year in March.
Steelers inside linebacker Joe Schobert probably leads the offseason list of possible pre new year contract terminations as he is scheduled to earn a base salary in 2022 of $8.75 million. Cutting Schobert early in the offseason would result in a cap savings of $7.834 million prior to Top 51 roster displacement. Tackle Zach Banner is another player ripe to have his contract terminated by the Steelers early in the offseason and such a move would create $5 million in 2022 salary cap space prior to Top 51 roster displacement.
Would either Schobert or Banner be open to Paragraph 5 (base salary) reductions to stay? I think that might be possible and especially when it comes to Banner. Getting him to agree to a cut from $5 million to $1.035 million would give him one last shot to compete for a 2022 roster spot. That reduction would also free up nearly $4 million in 2022 salary cap space as well.
Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt is yet another player who’s 2022 future is very cloudy right now. If Tuitt still wants to continue his NFL career, the Steelers should let him because the team only saves $4.295 million on 2022 salary cap space prior to Top 51 roster displacement by cutting him before June 1. That’s not a lot of savings. Designating Tuitt as a post June 1 cut would free up $9.05 million in 20220 salary cap space prior to Top 51 roster displacement. Such a move, however, would require that the Steelers carry his full cap charge of $13,975,750 until after June 1. I suspect a decision on Tuitt will be made sooner in the offseason rather than later. Once again, if he wants to play in 2022, the Steelers should keep him.
CONTRACT EXTENSIONS – The Steelers aren’t likely sign many players to contract extensions this summer. That noted, it will be shocking if Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick isn’t locked up long-term by the start of the 2022 regular season. Assuming that Fitzpatrick does ultimately sign a new contract later in the offseason, there is an outside chance that the extension winds up lowering his currently scheduled salary cap charge of $10.612 million just a little bit. If Fitzpatrick’s currently scheduled 2022 salary cap charge does ultimately drop, it’s hard to imagine such a drop being more than $3 million and especially if his new deal results in him being the NFL’s highest paid safety.
Quick Math: There are really no hard and fast totals to look at here because of all the options the Steelers will have to create cap space this offseason. There is well over $50 million in realistic available salary cap space to be had should the Steelers choose to use all available, yet legitimate, options laid out in this post. Will the Steelers utilize all available options listed in this post? Probably not. A few of these we will get our answers to before the middle of March, however. The biggest takeaway from this post in this series is that the Steelers will be able to create more than enough salary cap room to handle whatever they deem necessary throughout the offseason.
Part 2 Summary: As you can see, there are a lot of options that the Steelers will have this offseason when it comes to them being able to create 2022 salary cap space. Some of these options are time sensitive while many others are not. By the time the start of the new league year rills around in the middle of March, we should have a pretty good salary cap picture for the Steelers and what kind of aggressive direction the team will take in free agency.