The Pittsburgh Steelers have written enough big checks to put themselves into salary-cap hell. It's now time to find a way to cover all those bad checks.
This means the Steelers might have to free themselves somehow from some of the bloated contracts that are keeping this team from adding the young talent needed to be competitive.
There are really five main culprits causing the salary-cap issues: cornerback Ike Taylor, safety Troy Polamalu, linebacker LaMarr Woodley, tight end Heath Miller and defensive tackle Steve McLendon.
According to OvertheCap.com, the combined cap hit of these five players for 2014 is right around $49 million. With a potential 2014 salary-cap number of $126 million, these salaries are too much for Pittsburgh to continue to pay them and become competitive again.
So, the focus of this article will be finding replacements via free agency or the draft who might not be quite as talented but would come at a hefty savings. This list is comprised of lower-tiered free agents and Day 2 and 3 sleeper draft picks.
Tracy Porter, Oakland Raiders
Porter is a six-year veteran and former second-round draft pick out of Indiana. Porter has solid size and a physical style of play. He has been in and out of the starting lineup over the course of his career, but the Steelers would likely relegate him to a nickel cornerback role.
Pierre Desir, Lindenwood
Desir is one of the top small-school prospects in the country. He has excellent size (6'1", 205 pounds) and is a long, smooth athlete.
The downside to his game is that he has played against low-level competition during his career. One questions whether his skill set will translate against NFL competition.
Taylor Mays, Cincinnati Bengals
Mays was one of the most impressive college football players in the country while at USC. He parlayed his college success into getting drafted in the second round in 2010, but he has never lived up to the hype.
The Steelers could use him similarly to how they use Polamalu now as a hybrid safety/linebacker, especially in sub packages.
Hakeem Smith, Louisville
On the other end of the spectrum from Mays is Smith.
While Mays is a big, hulking safety, Smith is thin and athletic, built more like a cornerback. If the Steelers were to draft him, they could use him in a deep safety role, allowing them to play more aggressively in man coverage.
Shaun Phillips, Denver Broncos
Phillips is an experienced veteran who could contribute without breaking the bank. In his 10 years in the league, he has started 118 games and has had double-digit sacks three times, including this year.
Phillips has had a very good year, but his age will make it hard for him to command big money on the free-agent market.
Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State
The Steelers used a first-round pick on linebacker Jarvis Jones in 2013, but should they cut linebacker LaMarr Woodley, adding another 'backer will be a priority. Lawrence is very similar in size and style of play to Jones. This is good news or bad news, depending on what you think of Jones.
Lawrence has excellent explosion coming off the edge and has been incredibly productive in college.
Chase Coffman, Atlanta Falcons
Coffman was one of the best tight ends in the country while he played at Missouri, but he has never been able to live up to that potential in the NFL. Should the Steelers decide to cut ties with Miller, Coffman might be a nice depth option.
Colt Lyerla, Oregon
At this point, Lyerla's future is very much uncertain. That doesn't change the fact that he is a very talented tight end. And should he get his life in order, there might be no better team for him to excel on than the Steelers.
At his best, Lyerla is a dynamic receiving threat at the tight end position.
Terrence Cody, Baltimore Ravens
When Cody was coming out of Alabama four seasons ago, his size and power made him look like a future NFL star.
Unfortunately, his inconsistent effort has been a persistent barrier to his development, and it wouldn't be a shock if the Ravens let him walk.
The Steelers need a massive nose tackle prospect, even as a situational player, so if they could get him at a decent price, he could have a real impact on the defense.
Daniel McCullers, Tennessee
The trend here with these massive tackles is potential without the production to match. McCullers is a colossal human being who plays like a softie far too often. If he could ever harness all that mass (6'8", 351 pounds), he would be completely unblockable.
His draft stock continues to slide, which means he could be a genuine steal with proper coaching.