The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be staring straight down the barrel of a salary cap nightmare at the end of the 2013 season. This is a team that has walked the razor's edge as far as spending money while remaining competitive, but it appears as if the time has come to pay the ferryman.
As I peruse the salary cap numbers and free agent status of the Steelers roster as provided by SportCity.com, it appears to me that this offseason could be a prime opportunity to knock out some walls and do a serious remodel of this roster.
And, when you chose to make a decision like this, it means players, typically veterans, have to go. I understand that some of these players are beloved by fans, but the bottom line is you root for the jersey, not the name on the back. This season has been an abject failure. And simply repeating the mantra, "We're the Steelers, this isn't how we play," isn't going to fix anything.
However, before we delve into the free agent situation, it is important to illustrate that even among those players still under contract, cuts must be made if the math is going to work out. Alan Robinson is the Steelers beat writer for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and in this column, lays it on the table in the simplest of terms while talking about a potential extension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger's $17.895 million chews up approximately 14.5 percent of their projected salary cap...Talk about paying the price for success. Just look at these 2014 cap figures, as calculated by websites Spotrac and overthecap.com: LaMarr Woodley, $13,590,000; Ike Taylor (who recently restructured), $11,942,000; Lawrence Timmons, $11,816,000; Troy Polamalu, $10,887,500; Heath Miller, $9,466,500; Antonio Brown, $8,47,000. That's about $84 million for seven players, leaving only about $40 million for the remaining 46, plus the rookie class and all the players who will attend training camp.
When you see it like this, it is easy to understand that in order to re-build this team, it is going to take a two-pronged approach that involves some of these seven contracts being re-worked, as well as some others players being allowed to leave via free agency.
Jack Korpela, Pittsburgh native and current sports anchor at KVOA in Tuscon, AZ might have summed it up best with this tweet:
The Steelers are a team paying the price for past success. All those years of drafting high combined with salary cap issues and aging stars.— Jack Korpela (@JackKorpela) November 4, 2013
Now, I am no capologist, and I don't pretend to be, so I am sure there are subtle things about those seven contracts I don't get. But it appears to me that if nearly 68 percent of the salary cap is being used on 13 percent of the players, the system is broken. I'll leave the dollars and cents to others, but when you look at those names, there is certainly some wiggle room to save.
But back to the free agent situation. According to SportCity.com, there are going to be 27 players bearing some sort of free agent designation this offseason. The vast majority of these players are reserves or marginal players who don't figure in big-picture to the salary cap.
However, there are eight names on this list who are going to be asking for new contracts. Short of massive hometown discounts, it would be cheaper to replace these players, which would likely make this team better.
|Ryan Clark||Safety||Shamarko Thomas|
|Brett Keisel||Defensive End||Al Woods, 2014 Draft Pick|
|Ziggy Hood||Defensive End||Al Woods, 2014 Draft Pick|
|Emmanuel Sanders||Wide Receiver||Markus Wheaton|
|Ramon Foster||Guard||Maurkice Pouncey|
|Jason Worilds||Outside Linebacker||Jarvis Jones|
|Felix Jones/Jonathan Dwyer||Running Back||2014 Draft Pick|
A couple of notes on the above chart. If the Steelers chose to retain center Fernando Velasco and Pouncey comes back at full strength, Pouncey could find himself moving to left guard.
As far as Sanders is concerned, he's doing his best to play himself out of a job, which could force the Steelers to re-sign Jerricho Cotchery. Re-signing Cotchery would allow Wheaton and wide receiver Derek Moye to move up. A contract to Cotchery would be much more fiscally responsible than a free agent deal to Sanders.
Worilds may be the one player on this list who has some leverage. Jones has struggled to adjust to the speed of the NFL game, and Worilds is playing well in his stead. If Jones can't make progress, the Steelers may have their hand forced in giving Worilds a new deal.
These cuts may seem drastic, and I concede that it could set this team back a year. But sometimes you have to take a hit for a season or two in order to become competitive again. I have no qualms about how the Steelers handled the salary cap to this point. The Steelers understand the talent they have at quarterback with Roethlisberger and wanted to maximize a window. Assuming that Roethlisberger has another three- or four-season window, the quicker they can turn over this roster, the better.