As we sit here today, the Pittsburgh Steelers are in the ballpark of around $30 million under the 2022 salary cap. Considering the fact that they were substantially in the red at this time last year, that’s certainly a very marked change of pace.
However, because you get overly excited, it’s worth keeping in mind that the majority of that will be earmarked for predictable offseason expenses, including about a third of that reserved for an in-season buffer, though they won’t have to explicitly worry about that part for a while.
Still, outgoing Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert did acknowledge that they are in what is virtually a unique situation during his decades-long tenure relative to the cap. “I can’t even remember when we had any excess room”, he told reporters yesterday, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’re anticipating having more room going into this process”.
It’s unfortunate that there is no audio here to better parse exactly what Colbert is saying with his final sentence. Are they anticipating having more room than they normally do heading into free agency, or does he anticipate that they will create more room between now and the start of free agency?
Either way, thanks to the substantial rise in the salary cap and the absence of need to carry some very large salaries this year, the Steelers have a lot more cap space to work with at the start of the process than they are used to—and even Colbert wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that.
“I never view us as being that aggressive, front-of-the-line free agency team, we never have been, and I don’t anticipate that changing”, he said, on the one hand. “But I can’t say it wouldn’t. I hate to say that because I am saying two different things, but, traditionally, we haven’t been because we haven’t had that cap room”.
The fact is, they haven’t been in a position to be very aggressive in the past, and they also haven’t had the need to. Now they have some cap room and some big holes, including a huge one at quarterback, so that certainly makes it far more likely that they will be aggressive in free agency, at least by their standards, than they have been.
They do spend money when they have it. When they found themselves with excess cap room in 2017 as they were heading into the season, they used it to sign cornerback Joe Haden once he became available. In 2019, after gaining unexpected cap space because Le’Veon Bell never signed his franchise tender, they signed Steven Nelson and Mark Barron (and Donte Moncrief).
The team still has a lot to account for before they can worry about outside business, with guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Joe Haden, Chukwuma Okorafor, Trai Turner, Terrell Edmunds, and Ahkello Witherspoon due to be unrestricted free agents.
But they have a lot more flexibility than they’re used to. A lot more. And coupled with the change around them, it could result in a more aggressive free agency period than we’re used to around here. Even Colbert acknowledges that possibility.