Are The Steelers Headed For Salary Cap Hell In 2012?

The 2011 season is almost here and the Steelers did a great job of turning the salary cap situation around since the lockout ended to get under the cap and lock up a few key players like Ike Taylor, Willie Colon, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons in the process. The problem with retaining such a veteran team for the past few years looks to possibly catch up with them in 2012 from a salary cap standpoint.

I have just started working on the 2012 status of the Steelers salary cap wise and it looks pretty grim right now. After projecting the upcoming final cuts and accounting for the little dead money associated with those cuts, the Steelers look to already have right around $135 million or so already on the 2012 books. The 2012 salary cap number is being projected by many to be around the same as it is this year. For this post I will shoot with a number of $125 million. It should be noted that the 2012 salary cap will be set based on a combined share of a “all revenue model”, so that number is just what I am hearing right now.

As you can see, the Steelers will go into the offseason about $10 million over the cap with roughly 35 players under contract. That speculated $135 million I mentioned above does not include Troy Polamalu either, who will now likely wear the franchise tag heading into training camp next year. That tag will be in the $9 to $10.5 million range by my calculations so that would put the Steelers nearly $20 million over with almost 20 more roster spots to fill.

Two other players will figure into the 2012 picture as well as Mike Wallace will be a restricted free agent and running back Rashard Mendenhall will head into his final year under contract. Placing a high one-year tender on Wallace will not be a problem, but doing a long term deal might. To make matters worse, both Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown will be heading into the final year of their rookie contracts in 2012 in addition. As it looks right now, Mendenhall might not see a second contract with the Steelers as he is a player that could be in the running for the franchise tag in 2013. He figures to have a lot of mileage on him after two more seasons and his health and performance will play a huge role in that decision. Running backs are pretty fungible in today\’s NFL, so that will not be surprising if he does not see another contract with the Steelers.

The initial solution to back out of this pending hell is to release several high priced veterans next year. Players like James Harrison, James Farrior, Brett Keisel, Bryant McFadden, Chris Kemoeatu and even Larry Foote could very well be playing their final year in Pittsburgh in 2011. The savings created by releasing those players will amazingly save $20 million roughly, but they all will carry dead money charges into 2013 should they be post June 1st cuts. After the 2013 though is when most of the television contracts with the NFL are up and of course the revenue will result in a higher salary cap figure at that point.

Back to Polamalu now. Surely he is already not happy with the prospects of playing under the tag in 2012 and he might be able to force the Steelers hand by holding out. You really could not blame him though if he does as he is the face of the Steelers organization and the entire NFL for that matter. The Steelers would be smart to not let it get that far and go ahead and pay him once the veteran cuts are made. This of course would lower his 2012 cap number and push off the bigger balloon years into 2014 or beyond depending on the length of the contract of course.

With Aaron Smith likely playing his last year in 2011 and the possible cuts I mentioned above likely to happen, you can see how the Steelers defense will get real young, real quick in 2012 outside of Taylor, Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Casey Hampton. I should note that Hampton will be entering the final year of his contract in 2012 as well, and he could be part of the major defensive overhaul in addition with a cap savings of nearly $5 million. That would mean the entire 2011 starting defensive line could be gone and half of the linebacker core as well. You can now see why the Steelers drafted Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, Jason Worilds, Stevenson Sylvester and Chris Carter over the last several years as all look to be major contributors not only in 2011 to some degree, but take over the bulk of the defense completely in 2012. Kevin Colbert and company can\’t afford to miss on these players in my opinion, because the Steelers will not have the money once again to go shopping in the free agency market and land a “Farrior lik”e veteran linebacker or a 3-4 defensive end.

There is always the prospects that a few of the veterans released could be re-signed at a much cheaper price, but that depends on several variables that I am not yet ready to speculate on just yet. A few of them likely will get better offers to end their careers elsewhere, so they would really have to play for cheap if they want back for another year.

Looking at the picture one year out it looks like salary cap hell, but it won\’t be as long as the Steelers have drafted wisely. The real hell will be watching some of the long time Steeler defensive players get their walking papers next offseason and I hope Polamalu is not forced to go through his own private hell as well. He deserves better.

This team is built to win it all in 2011 and that is all that really matters right now. Hell can wait.

  • Steve Duncan

    I think they are banking on two things:
    1) Like you said, cutting loose some vets that they have been quietly replacing over the past few years.
    2) The salary cap coming in closer to 130 than 120.

  • Andrewjos75

    If there is a cap space issue you know that Ward, Farrior, McFadden, and Smith are not safe. They would cut all four of these players before they would lose Polamalu so everybody needs to relax and take a deep breath.

  • Andrewjos75

    Polamalu cap number is high right now 8,595,000 His new number won’t be that much over right around 9 to 9.5 million.

  • SteelersDepot

    That is what I wrote or did you miss the part about the tag being 9-10.5 million?

  • SteelersDepot

    Smith is not under contract next year. Nowhere did I say that Polamalu would not be back. You people REALLY need to start reading & comprehending better. PLEASE!!!!!!

  • Ty019

    you are correct mcfadden, farrior, a.smith, and foot will be gone. Harrison and hines will take a huge paycut. We will be fine sanders and brown will play out there final contract and we can turn a 6th round pick into a 1st or 2nd round pick.

  • SteelersDepot

    If you think Hines & Harrison will take pay cuts you are fooling yourself. Harrison just restructured this year & Hines the year before.

  • tbob

    Restructuring is just a salary cap maneuver from my understanding, so they have never seen less money. Why would a restructuring prevent a taking a pay cut?

  • tbob

    Also, Smith as well as Farrior could very well retire

  • SteelersDepot

    Correct. Restructuring indeed is not a pay cut. It does not prevent a pay cut, but the money paid during the restructure does not come off the amortization. Players help teams by restructuring as they get the cash up front, if you think they are going to give money back, you are fooling yourself. Base salary is the only thing that can be cut not the signing bonus already payed and if you think Hines & Harrison will let their guaranteed base get cut….. lol

  • Steve Duncan

    I think there is a decent chance Harrison will be taking an involuntary cut next year…

  • Dave

    This is the downside to all the restructures that took place this year…those just shift cap money from the present year into future years…eventually the bill comes due. They could theoretically do another round of restructures next year, but that just makes “cap hell” even worse in 2013, 2014.

    Definitely agree, this could be the last year for several high priced vets like Farrior, Keisel, Aaron Smith, Ryan Clark, Foote, etc…

    Also definitely agree, there is a huge difference between doing a pure “restructure”, which any player or agent would agree to in a heartbeat, versus a real “paycut”. No player is going to voluntarily take a paycut unless he has no other choice. The problem is a lot of people (even some in the media who should know better), use the terms “restructure” and “paycut” interchangeably, they are totally different.

  • Mr. Goosemahn

    I don’t think we’ll be too bad next year, but that might just be me not knowing enough info. Here are my thoughts:

    – DE Aaron Smith will not be back next year, unless it’s for a significant pay cut. Not only is he not under contract, he’s not really needed anymore. Our defense did excellent without him and while he’s a loved and tenured player, he isn’t nearly as irreplaceable as people deem him to be. Between Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward, we are more than well equipped to replace him.

    – ILB James Farrior will retire. He said a while ago that he’d play three more years and if I’m not mistaken, this is the last year. In any case, we’ve got the depth to replace him (Timmons and Foote) and he might even retire on his own.

    – CB Bryant McFadden will be gone too, maybe sooner rather than later. I’m confident we can find a suitable replacement for him from any of the young CB’s we have, such as Keenan Lewis, William Gay, Curtis Brown, Crezdon Butler, or maybe even Cortez Allen. Sure it might take a year to truly gauge Brown, Butler, and Allen’s true worth, but we can keep him on the roster for the meanwhile. I know some people hate on Gay, but he’s solid, we could definitely do worse.

    – OG Chris Kemoeatu is another guy I could see the team release. Quite frankly, I believe he is overpaid. I know he is a mauler in the run game, but he gets pushed around far too often for a guy his size and is overrated based on his ability to pull off-tackle to the right. Foster, Legursky, Scott, Essex, and Hills are not as good as Kemoeatu is, but they’re significantly cheaper options, and to be honest I don’t think the drop-off in talent is too steep.

    – We can always have more players restructure their deals. As some have said, restructurings =/= pay cuts, it just means the players will get the money in a way that opens up cap room.

    All in all, I could simply be misinformed (or rather uninformed) as to the actual contract situations for a lot of players, but I think we can definitely make it work. At least, I hope so.

  • Rico

    Ward Farrior and Smith will all retiree I believe which should free up some cash and they could save money and get rid of some dead weight (Bryant McFadden/William Gay) via cuts. Keisel will be the one who’s future is in question. Unless he is willing to reconstruct or take a pay cut I dont see him stating especially with the young talent drafted. The steelers will be fine in 2012 give polamalu a deal fair for both sides because he doesn’t want to play anywhere else. As far as 2013 I believe Hampton will call it a career and they will be able to keep the 2 young WRs and Mendenhall.

  • Mmlotus2001


  • Steve Duncan

    Kemos value is assured because he can pull, and most of our runs are behind pulls. The problem is, he struggles with straight-line blocking.

  • I read recently that roster bonuses can be prorated as long as they are guaranteed. Are you prorating the Timmons (4.5M) and Woodley (5.5M) 2nd year roster bonuses in your 135 million?

  • Donald

    Heath Miller also has to be in question because of his pay

  • SteelersDepot

    Those roster bonuses are not guaranteed as the are LTBE.

  • Steve Duncan

    I could see Miller restructure, but not be in trouble. They have said several times that he is one of the keys to the offense.

  • Kdoylegti

    From the sound of it Harrison is slowing down due to his back injury. A big drop off in his pass rush ability could make his loss next off-season less surprising. No doubt he could make a bunch of money from someone like Al Davis anyway. I believe Hines will take an actual pay cut as his value to any other team is very little and there’s a good chance he won’t get to 1000 catches this season…he’ll have to take that big cut just to hang around and catch his 1000th. Smith, Farrior, Kiesel,…love the guys…just like Hines….thanks guys….enjoy the next phase of your lives. Mendenhall will be gone and he won’t be missed. RB’s have short lives, (Bettis was a rarity….and how did he not get into the Hall on the first ballot?) and personally I think the team is better when Redmond is on the field. Troy in all honesty will have peaked by the end of this season. His contract will be a big thank-you that will be a problem in the years to come.

  • Scott A Baumgardner

    First of all, the author of this article does not seam to know the steelers organization and how they operate. The Steelers came into this season 10 million over the cap and signed four players to long term deals and met the cap requirements without releasing any valuable players. Max Starks and Flozell Adams will not be missed.

    Secondly the comments about Polamalo are absurd as he has stated he wants to retire a Steeler and has never had an issue with contracts and would never hold out as suggested. He is not that type of person, look at his last deal, never an issue.

    James harrison has averaged over 10 sacks a year for the last 3 years and has been a dominate force for the Steelers and you guys are seriously thinking Pittsburg will not honor their agreement, come on be real. They don’t treat their players like that.

    Mendenhall will only be 26 when a new deal comes his way, which it will.

    Maybe you should actually know the Steelers before you make comments about how they will handle their cap and players.

  • SteelersDepot

    Who is this Polamalo character you are talking about and where is Pittsburg?

  • Jeb064

    You simply cant keep everyone when it comes to the salary cap. I have been trying to tell people that. With signing Timmons and Woodley, it comes down to Wallace vs Mendenhall. You can only keep one of those 2. I think when it is all said and done we will choose wallace and let Mendenhall walk.

  • Ground_Chuck

    you and me as Steelers fans over worry for nothing: that’s why we have Omar Khan to tweak out the numbers for us. let a man to do a man’s job and that’s where O. Khan comes in. peace out.

  • Grubb970

    where do u get your figures from? there coming in about even before polamula. the steelers havnt released the timmons, colon, or taylor contracts. woodley is only counting 8.5 against the cap nxt year.timmons and the rest wont count as much as u think in 2012

  • SteelersDepot

    The numbers have indeed been released & I have them. You can choose to either trust my numbers or not. Your call, not mine.

  • Duane

    i indeed dont trust your numbers. looked them up myself. the 35 players are around 95 million for 2012. your only 35 million off. Show us the proof. What your saying is insane. I have the numbers too.

  • SteelersDepot

    lol. You are WAY off. Just posted the numbers.