Steelers' Top Contracts to Consider Cutting Ahead of NFL Free Agency

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2021

Steelers' Top Contracts to Consider Cutting Ahead of NFL Free Agency

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    If the Pittsburgh Steelers are to get into financial shape ahead of free agency, it's going to involve making some tough cuts. 

    The Steelers got some good news when Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the new salary cap is expected to be between $180-$181 million when it was initially thought to be closer to $175 million. 

    The unexpected increase provides some cushion, but it still puts the Steelers at a projected $30.6 million over the cap, per Over The Cap

    Some of that will be remedied by making a decision on Ben Roethlisberger. The face of the franchise is set to make $41.3 million in his age-39 season. If he's willing to take a lower number, it would go a long way to getting the Steelers back on track. 

    That won't be the only major move, though. That just gets them back to treading water. In order to sign their rookie class and maybe hang on to some of their own impending free agents, they will need to cut a few contracts loose that will free up meaningful money. 

    Here's a look at some of the top contracts that should be considered. 

    All salary cap info via Over The Cap unless otherwise noted. 

CB Joe Haden

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    This one is going to be tough because Haden played well this season. Even at 31 years old he only allowed a 50.6 percent completion rate when targeted. 

    That's right on par with the results they have gotten from the defensive back since they signed him away from the Cleveland Browns four years ago. But the decisions the team will have to make are based on finances, not on-field play. 

    Another option at cornerback is Steven Nelson. The two have offered similar levels of play, and Nelson would actually offer cap savings of $8.25 million as opposed to the $7 million they would save by cutting Haden. 

    However, the goal for the Steelers should be to get a little younger this year, and keeping Haden certainly doesn't do that. He's entering his age-32 season, while Nelson is 28. 

    Given the financial pinch, it's hard to justify paying both corners relatively big contracts. This is a position where they can find cheaper help on the free-agent market and/or draft some defensive backs who can contribute right away. 

C Maurkice Pouncey

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    This one comes with an asterisk because it seems as though there's a good chance the Steelers won't have to cut Pouncey. He may be moving on by his own volition. 

    New offensive line coach Adrian Klemm said in an interview with Jeff Reinebold on the Coffee With Coach podcast that the center is currently mulling retirement. 

    If Pouncey does express the desire to come back, the organization may have the unfortunate task of breaking it to him he isn't going to be welcomed back. At least not on his current contract. 

    The 31-year-old center is set to make $14.5 million next season, which would make him the highest paid center other than Ryan Kelly in Indianapolis. That's a huge investment for a man who finished 30th among the 36 centers that Pro Football Focus ranked last season. 

    The offensive line struggled down the stretch as the offense stalled and the Steelers finished the season 1-5 in their last six games. Should Pouncey decide to return to football, it can't be in the black and yellow unless he's willing to take a major pay cut. If not, he should be on the chopping block.

QB Ben Roethlisberger

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    Joe Montana played for the Chiefs. Peyton Manning went to Denver. Tom Brady just won a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay

    Throughout history, franchise quarterbacks and the franchises they helped guide to the best of times have departed before retiring. 

    Roethlisberger is a beloved figure in Pittsburgh, but it should at least be considered that it may be time to part ways. After all, Roethlisberger is going to be 39 years old soon and ended the season playing at a much lower level than he started it. 

    December was by far his worst month of the season, throwing five interceptions to nine touchdowns and posting a passer rating of 81.9. Only Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins had lower air yards per completion than Roethlisberger's 4.6. 

    While he was the best quarterback on the roster, it's fair to wonder to what extent his aging arm may be holding back what the Steelers can schematically. 

    Maybe it's worth trying to put together one more run with Roethlisberger. Maybe the organization feels they owe it to him after playing with the team for so many years. The quarterback has reportedly already talked to the organization about restructuring his deal to lessen the financial burden, per Ed Bouchette of The Athletic. 

    But the team saves $19 million against the cap if they simply decide to move on from their star quarterback. That would make managing the cap a whole lot easier and put them in the running to spend the money it will take to make the roster competitive next season.