Cost To Cut: Chukwuma Okorafor Contract Deep Dive

I obviously get quite a few emails through the site during a week and mixed within those are questions about the contracts of certain players on the Pittsburgh Steelers and if the team can realistically cut said player. Because of that, I thought I would dedicate a few early offseason posts to a few Steelers’ players I seem to get asked about quite a bit when it comes to their contracts and the plausibility of cutting said players.

Today, I will focus on Steelers tackle Chukwuma Okorafor as I have received a few emails of late as to questioning the plausibility of the Steelers cutting him this offseason to free up salary cap space.

For starters, Okorafor is currently under contract with the Steelers through the 2024 season after signing a three-year, $29.25 million deal with the team last March. The base salaries by year in that deal were listed as being $1.25 million in 2022, $6 million in 2023 and $4.75 million in 2024, respectively. In those contract details, Okorafor also has two roster bonuses of $4 million each in 2023 and 2024. Both are reportedly due by the fifth day of the new league year in March of 2023 and 2024.

So, based on the contract details, Okorafor will be due a $4 million roster bonus on March 20 this year. If the Steelers want to cut or trade Okorafor, it would be very advisable for them to do so before March 20. In doing that, the team would save $6,916,666 in 2023 salary cap space.

Now, if the Steelers were to cut or trade Okorafor after March 20, and thus after his roster bonus has been initiated, the cap savings would be just $2,916,666, if done before June 1. Cutting or trading Okorafor after June 1, and thus long after his $4 million roster bonus was initiated, the cap savings for 2023 would be $6 million. Additionally, cutting or trading Okorafor after June 1 would result in a dead money charge in 2024 of $3,083,334.

So, what is the end takeaway from all of these numbers son far in this post? Basically, if the Steelers are to part ways with Okorafor this offseason, the most likeliest time for that to happen would be before March 20 and thus before his $4 million roster bonus is initiated. That’s obviously well before the draft takes place but just five days after the 2023 free agency signing period has started. In short, don’t hold your breath waiting for Okorafor to be cut or traded by March 20 as it seems very unlikely to happen.

Now, could the Steelers lower Okorafor’s 2023 salary cap charge via a simple contract restructure? Sure, they could, but for starters, the smartest time to do that would be before March 20 so that his full $4 million roster bonus, along with a chunk of his $6 million base salary, could be turned into a signing bonus.

Now, while a full restructure prior to March 20 would free up $4.46 million in 2023 salary cap space on Okorafor, doing that would increase his 2024 salary cap charge by $4.46 million. So, such a restructure would result in Okorafor having a 2024 bonus proration amount of $7,543,334.

In short, unless the Steelers got themselves in a real pinch between now and March 20, I wouldn’t look for Okorafor’s contract to be restructured and mainly because it doesn’t make a lot of sense to do so.

In closing, I would rate the plausibility of Okorafor being jettisoned out of Pittsburgh by March 20 as very, very low. While he obviously isn’t considered to currently be one of the NFL’s top right tackles, I think the Steelers will be comfortable retaining him at least through the 2023 season. Regardless of what I think, however, March 20 is the biggest date involved this offseason when it comes to Okorafor and his contract. If he makes it past March 20, odds then become really strong that he’ll be the team’s starter in 2023.

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