Why An Alex Highsmith Contract Extension Looks Likely This Summer

With today being Easter Sunday, there’s not a lot happening around the NFL. Because of that, today is a great day to look at where the Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit with their 2023 cash spending after a busy free agency period to date. This updated look should also provide us with a glimpse at what might be ahead for the Steelers when it comes to their cash spending for the remainder of the 2023 NFL league year as well. This look ahead includes why I believe there’s a strong possibility that the Steelers will sign outside linebacker Alex Highsmith to a contract extension later this summer.

To get things rolling with this post, let me clarify that I will be discussing cash spending today, not salary cap spending. I recently updated the Steelers 2023 salary cap situation and it is important to remember that cash spending is different from cash spending. For instance, the Steelers signed defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi to a new three-year contract several weeks ago and while his cap charge for 2023 is set to be $4,933,333, the Steelers will spend $12 million in cash on him this year. That $12 million is made up of Ogunjobi’s $1.4 million base salary and the $10.6 million signing bonus he was given as part of his new deal. See the difference in cash versus cap?

To date, the Steelers top 53 highest paid contracted players for 2023 have scheduled base salaries that total out at $134,293,586. We only use the top 53 players in this look because that is the active player limit all NFL teams have come Week 1 of the 2023 regular season. Of those top 53 players, there is another $59,641,950 in cash being spent outside of base salaries on either roster bonuses or signing bonuses given in 2023. As previously mentioned, Ogunjobi’s signing bonus is $10.6 million of that additional $59,641,950.

In total, the Steelers top 53 highest paid contracted players for 2023 equate to $193,935,536 in cash scheduled to be spent on them. You can see that breakdown of the top 53 in the table below. That table also shows some cap-related totals such as prorated bonus amounts, and cap charges just as extra information.

Now, the Steelers still have a draft and undrafted class that they will need to sign and there will be signing bonuses related to those contracts. Currently, a rough estimation of those signing bonuses for all drafted and undrafted players is $18 million and that will be another cash expenditure for 2023. Additionally, the Steelers will need to pay a full practice squad for the 2023 season at an estimated total of $4 million. The team will also need to budget for practice squad elevations and OTA workout bonuses as well as Reserve/Injured replacement players throughout the 2023 season as well. I estimate that amount to be roughly $5 million for the 2023 season.

After adding in the projected extra cash for the drafted and undrafted 2023 class, in addition to a full practice squad for the season and a budget for elevations, workout bonuses and Reserve/Injured replacements, the projected cash total for the Steelers becomes $220,935,536.

Okay, great, we have a projected 2023 cash spending amount of $220,935,536 for the Steelers as of Easter Sunday, so what good is that and how does this all relate back to a possible contract extension this summer for Highsmith? Let’s get to answering all of that.

For starters, the CBA stipulates that NFL teams must spend at least 90 percent of the league’s three-year salary cap total in cash for the three-year period of 2021-2023. The three-year salary cap total for 2021-2023 is $615.5 million. Through the first two years of that three-year span, the Steelers have spent roughly $377,903,541 in cash and that means in 2023 they will need to spend at least roughly $176,046,459, which they are obviously easily on course to do.

While 90 percent in cash spending versus the salary cap is the floor for NFL teams for the three-year period of 2021-2023, collectively, 100 percent or more in cash must be spent league-wide. In short, I expect the Steelers to be close to 100 percent in cash spent versus the cap to be spent through the 2023 league year. Based on what the Steelers have spent in cash through the first two years, roughly $237,596,459 will need to be spent by the team in 2023 to hit the 100 percent mark.

Assuming $237,596,459 is the rough cash spending goal for the Steelers in 2023, and with the team currently projected to spend roughly $220,935,536, that leaves a cash-spending deficit of roughly $16,660,923.

How might the Steelers go about spending that roughly $16,660,923 in cash moving forward and especially with the bulk of their higher-dollar free agency signings now likely over with? Well, a contract extension this summer for Highsmith fits quite perfectly into that $16,660,923 in expected cash spending.

Currently, Highsmith has an expected cash spending value in 2023 of $2.743 million. In a recent projected Highsmith contract extension post that I wrote last week, I have the Steelers spending $16.25 million on him in 2023 as a result of it. If my projection is correct, an additional $13.507 million in 2023 cash can be spent in 2023 on Highsmith via an extension, which is above and beyond the $2.743 million he’s already on the books for. That, in turn, would still leave another roughly $3,557,464 in cash for the Steelers to spend somewhere else, should indeed the goal be to spend 100 percent of the three-year span of cap totals in cash.

While there is sure to be some matriculation in the Steelers top 53 players under contract throughout the summer via contract terminations, the net result of such in the form of decreased cash spending shouldn’t be all that great because of displacement happening.

In closing, I think I have presented enough evidence in this post in terms of projected cash spending for the Steelers in 2023 to point to it being a very high probability that Highsmith will be signed to a fair-market contract extension later this summer. Specifically, I think we can expect Highsmith’s 2023 cash total to jump from $2.743 million to between $16-$18 million. At this point, I will be quite shocked if Highsmith isn’t signed to a contract extension by Week 1 of the 2023 regular season.

Let me know if you have any questions about this post as it relates to my projections and cash versus cap in the comments. Hopefully I have made this post very easy to understand as I do realize it can be considered a confusing topic and one that not a lot people care too much about.

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