The Pittsburgh Steelers announced the release of linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback Curtis Brown and offensive tackle Levi Brown Wednesday, as the team continues scrambling to find cap flexibility before the opening of free agency next week.
Pittsburgh was one of the teams helped most by the NFL's jump to a $133 million cap for 2014. Expected to be faced with numerous tough decision with longstanding veterans due to a murky cap sheet, the surprising 8.1 percent leap from last season gave the Steelers some breathing room.
The extra space allowed the Steelers to not only place the transition tag on linebacker Jason Worilds, but also retain safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller. Mainstays in the Pittsburgh locker room, Miller and Polamalu both signed three-year extensions that lopped off more than $7 million total from the team's 2014 cap.
The Steelers were about $15.25 million over the cap before signing those two extensions, per ESPN.com's Scott Brown. Combined with the roughly $7 million in cap space (more than $8 million in base salaries) they saved by cutting the trio of players later in the day, getting under the cap now seems more feasible than ever. All teams are mandated to be under the salary cap by the beginning of free agency next Tuesday.
Pittsburgh's release of Foote will come as a particularly tough blow to fans, as the 33-year-old linebacker has become ingrained in the team's defensive culture. A fourth-round pick in 2002, Foote has played all but one season (2009) with the Steelers in a variety of roles. He was a starter on the team's Super Bowl XL championship team and a sparingly used reserve three years later when the Steelers earned their sixth ring as a franchise.
While injuries re-entered him into the starting lineup in 2012—and earned him a new three-year deal—Foote's own time on the trainer's table likely cost him his roster spot. Foote played in just one game last season after suffering a ruptured biceps in a Week 1 loss to the Tennessee Titans. It was the first time in his career the always-dependable Foote missed more than two regular-season games.
It's unclear whether the Steelers would be open to another reunion or if Foote will continue to play in 2014. With just a $1.83 million cap hold for next season, the odds seem against Foote returning on a smaller deal, though training-camp injuries or any other number of things could change that. Curtis Brown, due just $645,000 in base salary for next season, was also merely a move to free up roster spots for new players.
Levi Brown's departure, on the other hand, creates a much-needed financial windfall. Due $6.25 million this season in base salary and bonuses without any dead money attached to his deal, Brown was a goner almost from the moment the offseason began. Acquired from the Arizona Cardinals in a rare midseason trade, Brown never even played a game with the Steelers before suffering a season-ending triceps injury.
Long thought of as an under-achieving talent, Brown should find at least one more team desperate enough to give him a chance.
The Steelers probably aren't done cutting underachieving veterans, either. As pointed out by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, high-priced linebacker LaMarr Woodley and cornerback Ike Taylor will be next to have a sit-down meeting with management:
It will be interesting to see what happens with Woodley, who counts $13.59 million against the cap but carries more than $14 million in dead money. The Steelers do have the option of cutting him after July 1, however, and spread his cap hit over multiple seasons.
Nevertheless, with the Steelers coming off two straight 8-8 seasons, the implication is clear: Times are changing in Pittsburgh.
All salary information is via Spotrac.
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