We are now less than seven weeks away from the start of the 2022 NFL league year as of Thursday. These next seven weeks will pass by quickly, and they will include the Pittsburgh Steelers making several moves to get themselves ready for free agency first, and then the 2022 NFL Draft. There will be a lot of moves that impact the Steelers’ salary cap situation between now and the start of the new league year in March, and a lot of that potential forthcoming work has already been covered in my two previous posts in this series. In this post, we will look at the different costs the Steelers can expect to have after the start of the new league year, which, again, is seven weeks from now.
This post is essentially me walking into a kid’s birthday party and then taking a pin out and popping all the balloons in the room. Nobody likes to hear about salary cap space being spoken for, but it’s my job to pass along this sort of news so that fans won’t be caught off guard.
So, here we go with a breakdown of the forthcoming costs the Steelers can expect to have after the start of the new league year.
52nd & 53rd Players: People often forget that the NFL salary cap works under the Rule of 51 during offseason. That means the top 51 cap charges are counted in addition to other things such as dead money and other offseason adjustments and/or league charges. At worst, $1.41 million needs to be budgeted for when it comes to a 52nd and 53rd players on the Week 1 roster. Those two spots are not accounted for in the Rule of 51. In short, it’s an additional cost that will hit after the final cuts take place.
16-Man Practice Squad: It looks like 16-man practice squads in the NFL are here to stay. The Steelers also seem like they are a team that likes to carry at least four veterans on their 16-man practice squad. A low budget for such a 16-man practice squad for 2022 is $3,592,800. That amount does indeed go against the team’s salary cap.
Reserve/Injured & Reserve/PUP Players: How many total Steelers players will open the 2022 regular season on either the Reserve/Injured or Reserve/PUP lists? Nobody can obviously answer that question as we sit here in late January. Even so, experience has taught to budget for at least four players at minimum salaries to be on either of those two lists come Week 1 of the regular season. In 2022, that amount would be $2.82 million, and it is a highly conversative displacement cost at that. Sure, some of those players would likely be split salary-type players, but some won’t be. Remember last year? The Steelers had several players start the regular season on the Reserve/Injured list. That list included Zach Banner, Stephon Tuitt, Anthony McFarland Jr., Joshua Dobbs, DeMarkus Acy and DeMarcus Christmas.
2022 Rookie Pool: At the time of this post, the Steelers’ 2022 estimated rookie pool amount for their seven scheduled draft picks is $8,272,901, according to Over the Cap. The effective cap space needed for those seven draft picks is currently estimated to be $3,337,901. The Steelers will also need signing bonus money for undrafted players, as well. So, to be on the safe side, better round up the rookie class cap space needed to $3.4 million, pending any movement with pick selections.
Early 2022 Steelers Rookie Pool Estimates & Effective Cap Space Needed To Sign, via Over the Cap.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) January 26, 2022
In-Season Fund: The Steelers will once again likely want to start the regular season with a nice chunk of cap space in reserve to have free for all kinds of in-season moves and elevations. I think you can count on that number being at least $10 million in 2022. It was even slightly more than that in 2021. That $10 million obviously isn’t a hard charge, but come Week 1, that’s how much the team will likely want available, so it’s good to go ahead and account for it as if it were a hard charge. Obviously, unused salary cap space can be rolled over to the next year.
Quick Math: There is obviously quite a bit of estimation overall when it comes to these post-new league year costs. That said, a lot of these estimated amounts should be in the ballpark. In total, we have an estimated amount of $21 million, with a good portion of that not essentially needed until after the final roster cuts are made. These are annual costs that need to be budgeted for. There also always could be a small surprise or two along the way that eats a little bit of salary cap space.
Part 3 Summary: This post might freak quite a few people out and especially with the team being almost $34 million under the cap as we sit here today when it comes to the Rule of 51 as is. Once again, these futures costs are just things that need to be budgeted for. With that in mind, it is always smart to think about team cap space in terms of effective cap space, which takes into account not only future costs, but ways to clear space as well. This offseason, the Steelers will have plenty of room to maneuver as they wish throughout free agency and into the summer. There are sure to be a few contract terminations and restructures along the way. There will also be a few re-signings, a few outside adds, and later in the summer, at least one extension. Don’t however, expect the Steelers to go crazy in free agency. It’s not what they do.