7 Cost-Effective Moves Pittsburgh Steelers Should Make This Offseason
The Pittsburgh Steelers will face some tough offseason decisions as they once again face salary-cap issues. This may mean that they will once again have to part ways with some longtime veterans.
According to Joel Corry of CBS Sports, the Steelers are expected to be at least $10 million over the projected $126.3 million salary-cap figure set for 2014.
Cap problems have limited Pittsburgh’s ability in the offseason to make improvements on the roster, so general manager Kevin Colbert will have to figure out ways to upgrade the team while working on a tight budget.
Recent years have shown that Colbert is not afraid to part ways with some of the team’s best—and oldest—players in order to gain financial flexibility. Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, James Farrior and James Harrison are just a few of the names to be let go of in recent years.
Troy Polamalu could face that fate this year, but the Steelers do not have a replacement and should instead allow him to play out the remainder of his contract. The decision may not be so easy for others.
Will it be more of the same for Pittsburgh during the 2014 offseason? Here are seven cost-effective moves the Steelers should make.
Release Levi Brown
The Steelers were desperate for a tackle when they traded for Levi Brown. Mike Adams was struggling at left tackle, and Brown would have provided a veteran presence to challenge him.
That roster battle never materialized, as Brown was placed on the injured reserve list with a triceps injury suffered in pregame warm-ups prior to his first game with the team.
Since then, Kelvin Beachum stepped up into the tackle role, making Brown expendable.
With three young tackles on the roster—Beachum, Adams and Marcus Gilbert—the Steelers will be able to release Brown without any cap penalty, according to Over the Cap.
By releasing Brown, the Steelers will save $6.25 million against their 2014 cap. All three young tackles are still on their rookie deals, meaning that the Steelers will get a lot of bang for their buck at the tackle position.
Extend Cortez Allen
Sometimes you have to spend money to save money, and that is exactly what the Steelers need to do with Cortez Allen.
As they learned last season, waiting an extra year to sign a young cornerback can cost a lot of money. If they had signed Keenan Lewis after his third year, they would have had a steal.
Instead, Lewis went out and had a terrific fourth year, which made him one of the top cornerbacks on the market. He went on to sign a five-year, $25.55 million deal with the New Orleans Saints last offseason. The deal included $10.5 million in guarantees.
In retrospect, the Steelers gladly would have signed Lewis to that deal and will now face a similar situation with Cortez Allen.
Allen is in the final year of his rookie deal and was called a “Secret Superstar” by Pro Football Focus prior to the start of the 2013 season.
Injuries and early-season struggles led to a disappointing start to the year by Allen, but as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ray Fittipaldo pointed out, he had strong finish to the season.
The Steelers will expect Allen to continue on the upward trend and develop into their top cornerback as soon as next season. It is time to take care of his deal now before his price skyrockets.
Allow Emmanuel Sanders to Walk
Despite having the best statistical season of his career, Emmanuel Sanders’ future with the Steelers is in doubt.
His 67 receptions for 740 yards and six touchdowns far outpaced his previous year’s production, but it also was not enough from a No. 2 receiver.
During the offseason, the Steelers matched a $2.5 million offer sheet that Sanders signed with the New England Patriots. However, he was not offered a long-term extension, and it doesn’t appear likely that he will be in Pittsburgh next season.
That does not mean he doesn’t want to stay. Back in October, Sanders told Ralph Paulk of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he was interested in staying in Pittsburgh.
I doubt his feelings have changed much since then, but his demands may have. In April, Sanders’ agent, Jordan Woy, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette that it would have to be a “very good deal” for him to sign a multiyear contract with the Steelers.
Sanders’ play did not match what would require the Steelers to sign him to a high-priced contract. He may also be better suited as a No. 3 receiver.
The Steelers are already counting on a cheaper Markus Wheaton to step up and can take advantage of a deep talent pool of wide receivers in this year’s draft.
Sanders has been a decent option, but the Steelers can find a more cost-effective option who can be just as productive or better.
Extend Heath Miller
Heath Miller continues to be one of the Steelers’ most consistent players, and for that reason, he should receive a contract extension this offseason. He is in the final year of his current deal and has a cap hit of nearly $9.5 million this year.
The Steelers can reduce that number through a three- or four-year extension that would keep him in town for the rest of his career. He remains one of the best all-around tight ends in the league and figures to be a big part of the offense moving forward.
Besides his production, the Steelers have no young options behind Miller. If they had drafted Tyler Eifert last year, it may have put Miller at risk of being a cap casualty.
Approach Ike Taylor with a Pay Cut
Following a disappointing season, many Steelers fans have called for the release of Ike Taylor. It is hard to blame them.
Taylor was not the same player he has been in the past. No longer can he shadow an opponent’s best receiver, which was evident when he was shredded by Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon for over 200 yards.
By releasing him, the Steelers could save $7 million against the salary cap. However, according to an ESPN report, Taylor restructured his contract during the season. So in addition to the savings, he will have nearly $5 million in dead money as a result.
Another thing to consider is the lack of depth at cornerback. While Taylor may no longer be able to play up to his contract, he is still one of the Steelers’ best two options. Cortez Allen and William Gay are the only proven corners behind him, meaning if the Steelers were to cut ties with Taylor, they would almost certainly have to dip into the free-agent pool to find a replacement.
Instead, the Steelers should approach Taylor to take a reduction in pay. According to Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, Taylor told him it was either “here [Pittsburgh] or nowhere” next season. That provides the Steelers leverage.
Taylor should know by this point that he is more valuable to the Steelers than any other team, and the Steelers could use him for another year while they find a young replacement.
Allow Jason Worilds to Walk
It took four years, but Jason Worilds finally began to show why the Steelers selected him in the second round of the 2010 draft. However, after all that they have invested in developing him, another team will likely get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
In what will likely be another Keenan Lewis situation, the Steelers will have to allow Worilds to walk. The major reason why is they can’t pay LaMarr Woodley, Worilds and Jarvis Jones. There is only so much money available, and that is a significant chunk that would be invested into outside linebacker.
Releasing Woodley after June 1 would result in the Steelers carrying over a significant amount of dead money through 2015, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Alan Robinson.
Besides the dead money, Worilds will command a sizable deal, as young pass-rushers are always valuable commodities in free agency. Last year, Paul Kruger signed a five-year, $40 million deal with the Cleveland Browns.
That is a bit steep for the Steelers, especially considering Worilds’ injury history and limited body of work as a productive starter. Remember that he was behind rookie Jarvis Jones early this season and struggled in his time at right outside linebacker. He accumulated most of his stats from the left side over the last half of the season.
It will be a tough pill to swallow, but it would be more financially prudent for the Steelers to let Worilds leave via free agency and collect a compensatory draft pick in 2015 than to sign him to a long-term deal and release Woodley.
Limit Contract Restructuring
There are many reasons for the cap problems that the Steelers face, but if you had to pick one that was near the top of the list, it would be contract restructures.
Fans often believe that a player is being selfless and “helping the team” whenever he restructures. That is not the case at all. Teams convert salary into a bonus, which provides the player with up-front money while allowing the team to spread the cap hit through the contract.
Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review examined the Steelers’ contract restructuring practices back in March and found that they have restructured 13 contracts since 2011. This has pushed $54.7 million to the future.
The result has been a top-heavy roster, according to Kaboly. The top five salaries on the Steelers cover over 40 percent of the salary cap. With the lack of quality drafts and financial problems, it is easy to see why the Steelers struggled with their depth.
While the cap problems have not gotten out of control as the result of all of the restructuring, it is one of the reasons why the Steelers will have problems releasing LaMarr Woodley—who restructured his contract in 2012—this year.
I would not expect the Steelers to change their business practices overnight, but a reduction in the number of restructures—particularly those to aging players—would be a step in the right direction.