Steelers 2013 Salary Situation: Breaking Down Pittsburgh's Current Cap Status
As is seemingly par for their course as of late, the Pittsburgh Steelers headed into the offseason well over the $123 million 2013 salary cap. And, as is usual for the Steelers in this situation, they used a combination of cuts and contract restructures to get under the salary cap.
Take into account the Steelers' finances headed into Tuesday's start of free agency, which gave them cap room to the tune of $14 million. Then, factor in the restricted free-agent tender given to running back Isaac Redman (which wasn't included in that first figure, though the rest of their tenders were) as well as the three-year deal handed to guard Ramon Foster that carries with it a $1.4 million cap hit this year, and that puts the Steelers at $11.3 million under the cap.
Keep in mind that that number is poised to go down, almost immediately. The Steelers will be bringing back wide receiver Plaxico Burress in the coming days, for a veteran minimum salary and they just re-signed linebacker Larry Foote to a multi-year deal. Larry Foote's new deal and the re-signing of fullback David Johnson and that appears to put the Steelers at around $4.4 million under the salary cap.
Signing quarterback Bruce Gradkowski lowers that number somewhat and the release of Willie Colon doesn't technically take effect until June 2, when it will save the team $5.5 million so they cannot yet operate as though they have that money just yet. With the signing of free agent tight end Matt Spaeth, the Steelers should have just about $3 million in cap space right now.
Here's a breakdown of how the Steelers got to this point.
Signings and Other Contract Moves
Here's how the Steelers managed to get themselves to around $3 million under the $123 million 2013 salary cap.
March 18: TE Matt Spaeth, two-year deal. $2 million, $275,000 signing bonus,
March 13: G Willie Colon released, with a June 1 designation. 2013 cap savings: $5.5 million (on June 2)
March 13: QB Bruce Gradkowski, three-year deal. Cost yet unknown.
March 13: TE/FB David Johnson, one-year deal. Cost yet unknown.
March 12: WR Plaxico Burress. One-year deal, veteran minimum. Deal not yet completed.
March 12: LB LaMarr Woodley, contract restructure. Base salary reduced from $9 million to $3.6 million. Cap savings: $4.05 million.
March 11: RB Jonathan Dwyer, lowest RFA tender, $1.323 million. 2013 cap hit: $1.323 million.
March 11: RB Isaac Redman, lowest RFA tender, $1.323 million. 2013 cap hit: $1.323 million.
March 11: NT Steve McLendon, lowest RFA tender, $1.323 million. 2013 cap hit: $1.323 million.
March 11: WR Emmanuel Sanders, lowest RFA tender, $1.323 million. 2013 cap hit: $1.323 million.
February 27: WR Antonio Brown, contract restructure. Cap savings: $3.08 million.
February 26: LB Lawrence Timmons, contract restructure. Cap savings: $5 million.
Steelers Restructure 4 Contracts, Save $18.1 Million
The Pittsburgh Steelers like to start their salary cap reduction process by restructuring the salaries of their most expensive players. They did so this year with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown, linebacker Lawrence Timmons and then, most recently with linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
In all, the restructures—a combination of converting salaries to bonuses and putting off money due this year into later years—saved the Steelers $18.1 million so far this year. It certainly helped them get under the salary cap, which they needed to do.
But the Steelers are playing with fire—that money will all come due, on top of the myriad restructures they've done over the years. The hope is that the cap will rise enough in 2014 and beyond that this won't hurt the Steelers too much, but moving money to later years can be dangerous.
Steelers Release LB James Harrison
With linebacker James Harrison unwilling to reduce his 2013 salary of $6.57 million, the Steelers opted to release him, saving them $5.1 million. The five-time Pro Bowler has been an integral part to the Steelers' success, but the team has never shown an unwillingness to release an expensive veteran if he doesn't want to redo his deal.
Steelers Use RFA Tender on 4 Players
The Steelers needed to find a way to re-sign at least some of their impending free agents, lest they have some serious trouble this year, particularly at the running back position. Therefore, they chose to use the lowest restricted free-agent tenders on four of their players, two of them backs.
Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman may not be in the Steelers' plans when it comes to being a feature back this year, but their powerful running and goal-line skills make them valuable enough to retain. Both will receive $1.323 million this year.
Also getting the $1.323 million restricted free-agent tender are nose tackle Steve McLendon and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.
The RFA tender is risky; these players can be snapped up for just a draft pick in the round they were originally taken. For McLendon and Redman, who weren't drafted, the Steelers wouldn't receive any compensation should another team come calling.
Steelers Re-Sign G Ramon Foster
Most intriguingly, the Steelers opted to give a three-year deal to free agent guard Ramon Foster, guaranteeing he will be off of the market. The deal is worth $6 million in total and includes a $900,000 signing bonus.
The Foster contract could very well mean that Willie Colon is released—but likely not until summer. If the Steelers release him after June 1, they'll save $5.5 million. Before that, they will save just $1.5 million.
Steelers Re-Sign LB Larry Foote
The Steelers need depth at inside linebacker, and a bit of veteran experience doesn't hurt either. That's why they chose to give Larry Foote a three-year deal on Tuesday, worth $2.5 million for 2013 alone.
Foote probably won't see the final year (or perhaps two years) of the contract. The Steelers needed him this year, and with the Arizona Cardinals apparently very interested in Foote's services, the Steelers had to act fast.
Steelers Release G Willie Colon
The Steelers gave themselves some much-needed cap space by releasing offensive guard Willie Colon, but they'll have to wait to see it. If they had cut him outright now, they'd save just $1.5 million in cap space. Instead, they gave him a June 1 designation for his release; this means the Steelers will save $5.5 million on June 2.