The Steelers now head into the offseason and will be faced with not only key decisions with several free agents, but with several players currently under contract next season and beyond as well. I have identified 6 players below I think the Steelers will have to think hard and long about in the offseason. These players, if cut, will bring salary cap ramifications with them as well assuming the new salary cap rules are some what similar to the old ones.
Of course not having a CBA in place and not knowing the new salary cap rules and regulations make it hard to say what amortization they will be up against. Prior to the CBA ending, a team could cut a player after June 1st and stretch the remaining signing bonus out over two years instead of eating it in one year. That went away after the 2009 season as there was no CBA in place for 2010, so teams could no longer do that.
For this article I will pretend there will be no luxury of a June 1st cut and present each player below as if the whole remaining signing bonus would be charged off in 2011.
DE Aaron Smith - Aaron Smith never was able to recover from the torn triceps suffered against the Dolphins and the Steelers took the risk and kept him on the roster all season. Smith is starting to get the tag as a guy that can not stay healthy and with the emergence of second year player Ziggy Hood, it may make the $6.1 million cap charge a bit tough to swallow for the Steelers in 2011. Smith is owed $1.6 million or so in signing bonus I believe, so he would be a cap savings of $4.5 million or about should the Steelers choose to release him. They also might consider going to him and renegotiating his contract to a number they both can live with. Smith might even decide to retire as he will be 35 come April. $6 million is quite a big number to swallow and would free up some well needed cap money.
RT Flozell Adams - Flozell Adams contract puts the Steelers in total control. He is scheduled to make $5 million in 2011, but there is no signing bonus involved. If the Steelers decide to go another direction at right tackle, they can just release Adams outright and not be worried about any cap charge. Adams, like Smith, could just choose to retire. Adams now has a full season of switching over to the right side under his belt and is still strong in run blocking. At $5 million a season though, Adams would be an expensive backup should he not be made the starter. The "to be determined" free agent status of Willie Colon will play a big role in this decision as will the draft.
WR Antwaan Randle El - As the season wore on, Antwaan Randle El lost his #3 receiving spot to rookie Emmanuel Sanders. He also relinquished some punt returns to the rookie receiver Antonio Brown. El still dressed for every game in 2010, but he was visibly being phased out. With Hines Ward returning in 2011 and both of the rookies looking to develop even further, El could be an odd man out. El is still under contract for two more years and scheduled to count around $2.3 million against the salary cap next year. The Steelers can cut him and be charged around $600K and save themselves $1.7 next season. I think his spot depends on if Limas Sweed can make it back as a contributor and also if special team ace Arnaz Battle is brought back as well. Right now, El provides depth and experience and is not overly expensive. He also gives you another arm for trick plays we have come to love from him.
ILB Larry Foote - Linebacker Larry Foote was brought back after a year in Detroit this past offseason as a backup at inside linebacker and to help on special teams. He only saw spot duty on defense, mostly in goal-line packages or late in blowouts. Foote is scheduled to count about $3 million against the cap in 2011 and the Steelers only stand to save $1.8 million should they release him. He likely will be kept around one more season, but that is a guess.
LCB Bryant McFadden - The Steelers traded for Bryant McFadden during the 2010 draft after failing to snag a young corner early with a draft pick. McFadden struggled at times at left corner and may be better suited going forward as a reserve or nickel type role. BMac was extended two years after he was traded for and scheduled to count nearly $2.7 million against the cap in 2011. Should the Steelers decide to cut him loose, he will be an instant cap charge of around $350K, but a savings of nearly $2.4 million. This could indeed happen if pending free agent Ike Taylor is resigned and rookie Crezdon Butler is ready for a bigger role in the secondary in his second season.
WR Arnaz Battle - The last name on this list is special teamer Arnaz Battle. Battle was signed this past offseason to a three year deal with a signing bonus near $1 million. He is set to cost the Steelers almost $1.4 million in 2011 or the Steelers can release him and save just under $700K. One would think the Steelers do not want to carry 6 receivers on the 53 man roster again next year and it looks certain that either El or Battle or even both might not be back.