Many in Steeler Nation are overreacting to the latest comments Steelers linebacker James Harrison made in the August issue of Men\’s Journal and are crazily suggesting that the Steelers release Harrison because of it. Outside of it being ludicrous to cut one of, if not the best, outside pass rushing linebackers in the league, it is also fiscally irresponsible for the Steelers to do.
Harrison signed a 6 year, $51.175 million, contract back in April of 2009 that included about $20 million plus in bonuses. Although the exact structure of the contract and signing bonus is not fully known, let\’s assume that $11 million of the signing bonus remains to be accounted for on a contract that was front loaded to eat most of the signing bonus money based on this breakdown here.
Prior to the last CBA ending, teams could cut a player after June 1st and stretch the remaining signing bonus owed a player over a two year span instead of it escalating right away and counting against that years cap number as dead money. I have not heard if this will carry over yet in a new labor deal, but one could assume it very well may. For this example, let\’s look at both scenarios. Assuming they can spread it out over two years that would mean cutting Harrison would count $2.75 million this year and $8.25 million next year against the cap as dead money. If the June 1st cut rule is not in place, Harrison would count $11 million against the 2011 cap in dead money. That is a hell of hit either way you look at it, especially as the Steelers are already around $10 million over the cap as they sit right now. So you can see how fiscally irresponsible it his to release him for merely speaking his mind and posing with a few guns this year.
Now after the 2011 season, Harrison will have 3 years remaining under contract and will still be owed in the neighborhood of $8.25 million in signing bonus money based on my conservative example. Should the June 1st cut rule be in place next offseason, the Steelers could have the luxury of stretching out the $8.25 million cap hit over the next two years which would result in a $2.75 million dead money cap hit in 2012 and a $5.5 million in 2013. Should they keep him though, he would cost around $8.25 to $8.5 million against the cap that likely includes a roster bonus and his base salary. The Steelers would save around $5.5 million plus against the 2012 cap by cutting him, if indeed the June 1st cut rule is in effect, but will have that one year of dead money of $5.5 million to account for in 2013. That still might be foolish to do though, especially if Harrison keeps his same level of play in 2011 and stays out of trouble from here on out. They also still do not know fully what they have in linebacker Jason Worilds, their second-round pick of 2010 and Chris Carter, their 2011 fifth-round pick.
Fellow outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley will likely get a contract extension as soon as the lockout is over to lower his 2011 franchise tag cap hit of $10 million plus. In addition, inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons is entering his final year under contract and likely will wear the 2012 franchise tag should he not be extended by then. This will give the Steelers the whole 2011 season to make sure that Timmons is worthy of a long term deal and watch the development of Worilds and the play of Harrison.
Should Harrison not cause anymore problems and stay the dominating force on the outside, one would think the Steelers will keep him through the 2012 season. After that, he becomes a bit easier to release at the age of 35 and the dead money much easier to swallow. Once again I should state that I used $11 million as the straight signing bonus number left to be paid Harrison, but it indeed could be more or less than that. One thing you can pretty much bet is that Harrison will not be released now and his status for 2012 depends on his level of play and distractions he has caused from here on out. If I had to place a bet now, I would hedge on Harrison being in a Steelers uniform for the next two seasons at the least. No way they cut him now.
ETA: I had my numbers wrong with the post June 1st cut spread out and have corrected the numbers in my example. Spreading the money out over two years is not done equally. Year one is the actually amount you were on the hook for paying that player in that year and the remaining amount is charged off the following year. It is not a 50/50 split as I previously had shown in my example. Sorry for the confusion.