Pittsburgh Steelers: How the Steelers Can Fix Some of Their Cap Woes

Nick DeWitt@@nickdewitt11Analyst IJanuary 20, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: How the Steelers Can Fix Some of Their Cap Woes

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers have always been thought of as one of the most fiscally responsible teams in the salary cap era, able to remain competitive every season while still spending wisely and keeping themselves out of salary cap danger.

    In 2012, however, the Steelers are likely to be around $23 million over the projected cap. With a lot of money to clear to get to the limit and then room to be made for free agents and draft choices, there’s work to be done by Kevin Colbert and Omar Kahn, the team’s cap expert.

    Here’s a look at what those two men might be working on.

Restructuring with Ben Roethlisberger

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    This is obvious, and it’s already been brought up by many analysts. Roethlisberger has always been a team-first guy, and he knows he can only succeed if he has receivers, linemen, running backs and defenders who can do their jobs well too.

    Roethlisberger makes $11.6 million next year. If he’s willing to restructure his deal, it could add a good bit of breathing room for the team. My idea would be to renegotiate and lengthen the contract by a year or two to spread the money out or try to structure more of it as bonus money.

    This needs to happen first. Then, the team will know what kind of work is left, and then they can proceed with the next steps to getting there.

Restructuring or Cutting Hines Ward and James Farrior

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    Farrior is slated to make almost $3 million next season (the actual number is $2.825 million). Ward is slated to make $4 million.

    I’m putting these two players together because they’re both in similar situations. Both are nearing the end of their careers, both still seem to want to play at least one more season. Neither wants to go to another team to finish a stellar career.

    But neither is worth the money they are getting in that contract.

    Ward needs the biggest cut. His $4 million is completely out of proportion with his current role, which is likely that of a fourth or fifth option that plays 10-15 snaps a game. A better number for him is closer to league minimum. If they could get him around $1.5 million or even a little lower, it’s easier to swallow.

    Farrior doesn’t have as high a number, but he’s also someone who needs at least half of that number taken off. The Steelers won’t want to extend the deal unless they can work out a retirement plan too.

    If the sides cannot reach some kind of new agreement, expect both players to go.

Restructuring or Cutting Willie Colon

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    I’m actually in favor of the latter option with Colon. I don’t trust him with that injury history, especially after back-to-back missed seasons. The problem is that the team has always been sold that Colon can be a good offensive lineman.

    He’s OK when healthy, but he makes mental mistakes that frustrate everyone (holding and false start penalties). He’s certainly been bypassed by Marcus Gilbert as the right tackle, but Gilbert may be needed elsewhere.

    My recommendation with Colon is to offer to restructure the deal down considerably (he’s not worth anywhere near the $29 million the team is giving him over his five-year deal) and include incentives for games played and for conditioning (similar to what the team did with Casey Hampton).

    If he balks at that or they can’t get down to around $2 million a season in base salary, he should be sent packing.

Cutting Larry Foote

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    One of the major goals of the Steelers this offseason needs to be getting younger. The chance to start a youth movement is too great to pass up and will pay dividends as players like Farrior, James Harrison, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel start fading.

    One place to do that and save money is to cut Foote, who’s on the books for $3 million in 2012. For some perspective, he’d be making more this coming season than James Farrior, their starter.

    Foote looked OK as a backup and part-time starter in 2011, but he’s not likely a good option for another year or two, and certainly isn’t in the team’s future plans. The best move now for the team is to cut Foote loose and use his absence to create opportunity for Stevenson Sylvester and Chris Carter.

Restructuring with Casey Hampton

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    The team cannot afford to cut Hampton outright. He’s too important to that defensive line, and there is no clear-cut successor to him yet on the team. Even if the team were to draft someone, they would need a year or so to get them ready to start.

    That said, Hampton’s cap number for 2012 ($4.89 million) is a bit high given that he’s coming off an injury, has always had conditioning woes (except this year, when he seemed to be in great shape at the start of camp) and is getting old for his weight and position. He’s also projected to have a higher cap hit in 2012 than his salary (around $8.1 million). That can’t happen.

    This one could go either way, but with so much money to free up, the Steelers have to find a way to create space. Getting all of their older veterans to take some form of a paycut is likley going to be a favorite method and has worked well in the past.

Cutting Chris Kemoeatu and Jonathan Scott

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    The team can save a lot of money if they cut two players who have no business remaining on the roster. Kemoeatu is due $3.577 million this year, and Scott is due $2.2 million. Neither player has played up to that kind of contract.

    I was honestly surprised to see that much money contributed to Scott, a marginal player at best who nearly cost the Steelers dearly in 2011.

    Kemoeatu has always been a player full of talent and potential, but his results are sloppy, and his lack of attention to detail and poor attitude on the field have likely ruined what could’ve been a great career.

    I would expect both players to be set free before the 2012 NFL season. The combined savings is great, and the team can certainly replace them with younger, less expensive players.

Cutting Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle

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    Both players are mostly contributors on special teams at this point. Battle was buried offensively by the team’s unbelievable wealth at wide receiver. McFadden played his way off the field by being awful against Baltimore. Both are good on special teams, but the cap numbers are way too high.

    McFadden is due $2.5 million in 2012. Battle is due a little over $1 million. The Battle deal is believable if he has impact on offense, but he doesn’t. The McFadden contract is excessive even if you believed at the time he would be a decent complimentary corner to Ike Taylor.

    With the young corners stepping up and the sentiment that bringing back William Gay and/or Keenan Lewis is a good idea, McFadden has no clear job on the roster. Special teams-only player are a dime a dozen. Battle is a great special teams star, but he’s not worth that kind of money.

    Both spots can be used on young players who can contribute in the same roles and then eventually develop into a more regular position.