Going into the 2014 offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers are once again in the red as far as the salary cap goes. As outlined here, there is a way out of this salary cap mess, but it will require some tough decisions.
As we break down the Steelers' roster by position, we see pretty much what you would expect. There are some players who monopolize the bulk of the salary cap at each position. The onus for this team's success will fall on them, as well as how well the front office fills in behind them, considering the minimal cap space.
Let's take a position-by-position look at where the money is being spent.
All salary cap figures are provided by overthecap.com.
Obviously, the star of this show is quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As with most teams, the quarterback position is the one that absorbs a large portion of the salary cap. For the Steelers, here is how it breaks down for 2014:
- Ben Roethlisberger: $18.895 million against the cap
- Bruce Gradkowski: $1.833 million against the cap
- Landry Jones: $604,805 against the cap
Unless the Steelers choose to re-structure and extend Roethlisberger's contract, these numbers should remain largely unaffected.
The only running back under contract going into this offseason is Le'Veon Bell. Both of Bell's backups, Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones, are free agents, and their future with the franchise could be in question. Here's what things looked like in 2013:
- Le'Veon Bell: $749, 200 against the cap ($936,500 in 2014)
- Jonathan Dwyer: $592,941 against the cap
- Felix Jones: $587,500 against the cap
The Steelers would be well-served to offer at least one of their two free-agent running backs a veteran-minimum contract for the upcoming season, leaving them the roster spot and cap space to draft a speed-type back in the later rounds to play off of Bell's power running.
Two of the Steelers' three principal wide receivers from 2013 are free agents. Both Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery could both test the waters of free agency. Sanders is the most likely to seek a big contract waiting for him, and therefore could be gone. Here is a look at the 2014 cap situation for the Steelers' wide receivers:
- Antonio Brown: $8.47 million against the cap
- Markus Wheaton: $662,844 against the cap
- Derek Moye: $495,000 against the cap
- Justin Brown: $420,000 against the cap
It is not a terribly comfortable situation for the Steelers to enter 2014 four-deep at wide receiver. It would be prudent for the Steelers to bring Cotchery back to bolster the corps. There will be cap money there to offer Cotchery a contract, assuming they make some cuts elsewhere.
The Steelers could also opt to let Sanders and Cotchery walk, hoping that Wheaton and Moye are ready to step up, and with the probable inclusion of a mid-round draft pick.
The Steelers typically carry four tight ends and currently have three under contract. Money will be tight because tight end Heath Miller has a significant cap hit. Miller is one of several players who could be up for some tweaking to his contract to free up some space.
- Heath Miller: $9.466 million against the cap
- Matt Spaeth: $1.03 million against the cap
- David Paulson: $581,474 against the cap
If the Steelers want to get a fourth body for camp, free agent David Johnson could be signed to a one-year veteran-minimum contract to fill the roster out. Overall, don't expect any significant turnover here.
There are going to be some decisions to make about the Steelers' offensive line this offseason. Several players are free agents and may not be retained. For the upcoming season, here is where the Steelers are with their offensive line:
- Levi Brown: $6.25 million against the cap
- Maurkice Pouncey: $5.514 million against the cap
- David DeCastro: $2.131 million against the cap
- Ramon Foster: $1.950 million against the cap
- Marcus Gilbert: $1.026 million against the cap
- Mike Adams: $966,450 against the cap
- Kelvin Beachum: $581,668 against the cap
It's a certainty that offensive tackle Levi Brown will be released. Along with that, the Steelers will need to address two free agents. Both Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace, centers are free agents. The Steelers would be wise to and should have the space to re-sign at least one of them.
Defensively, the front line for the Steelers was a bit up and down in 2013. You add to that two starters are set to be free agents and it gets a bit more interesting. Here's how things look going into the offseason:
- Steve McLendon, Defensive Tackle: $2.983 million against the cap
- Cameron Heyward, Defensive End: $2.133 million against the cap
- Brian Arnfelt, Defensive End: $495,000 against the cap
- Hebron Fangupo, Defensive Tackle: $495,000 against the cap
This doesn't include defensive ends Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel, both of whom are free agents along with defensive tackle Al Woods. Presumably, there will be the cap space through some manipulation to allow the Steelers to retain Hood and Woods, and those would likely be the only real moves they make.
The Steelers' linebackers are another management may have to make some difficult financial decisions with. Outside linebacker Jason Worilds is a free agent, and fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley could be a cap casualty. The team is counting on linebacker Jarvis Jones to step up big in 2014, but who will play opposite him?
Here's the cap status of the Steelers' linebackers:
- LaMarr Woodley: $13.59 million against the cap
- Lawrence Timmons: $11.816 million against the cap
- Jarvis Jones: $1.978 million against the cap
- Larry Foote: $1.833 million against the cap
- Sean Spence: $726,345 against the cap
- Chris Carter: $685,700 against the cap
- Kion Wilson: $645,000 against the cap
- Vince Williams: $514,670 against the cap
Looking at this list, Woodley and Foote would both be gone this offseason, freeing up cap space to secure Worilds to a new contract and possibly adding in a free agent or draft pick for depth. If the Steelers can get Spence back to full health, it will make this entire group better.
Of all the big cap hits on this team, two of the biggest belong to members of the Steelers' secondary. Cornerback Ike Taylor and safety Troy Polamalu are both due substantial money in 2014. How much better this group can be will depend on them.
Here are the cap hits for the current defensive backs under contract for 2014:
- Ike Taylor, cornerback: $11.942 million against the cap
- Troy Polamalu, safety: $10.887 million against the cap
- William Gay, cornerback: $1.666 million against the cap
- Curtis Brown, cornerback: $775,300 against the cap
- Cortez Allen, cornerback: $742,875 against the cap
- Shamarko Thomas, safety: $608,288 against the cap
- Robert Golden, safety: $571,668 against the cap
- Ross Ventrone, safety: $495,000 against the cap
- Isaiah Green, cornerback: $495,000 against the cap
This is hardly an exciting group. And with Taylor and Polamalu eating up so much of the existing space, this might be the best group the Steelers can roll out.
Of course, the Steelers could be able to add a cornerback and or a safety via the draft, which would really help. If Taylor were released, this would free up even more space, and might even permit them to sign a mid-tier veteran to add talent to the secondary.
Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham is owed $1.762 million in 2014, and frankly, he is worth every penny. There might not have been a more dependable player in 2013.
The only punter the Steelers have under contract going into the 2014 offseason is Brad Wing. It's safe to assume the Steelers will once again bring in multiple punters to compete for the starting job at a minimum salary.