The Pittsburgh Steelers are already nearly $20 plus million over the 2012 projected salary cap number of $125 million and that is with just 44 players under contract for 2012. The still need to tender contracts to their restricted and exclusive rights free agents and fill the offseason roster to get to the 80 player limit as well. They need to get compliant to the salary cap with their top 51 salaries by the start of the new league year around the beginning of March. Knowing what we have as far as 2012 salary cap figures, it is easy to go through and list the players most likely to be cut or restructured. Below are the 10 most obvious players along with the salary cap situation and savings with each.
Casey Hampton – Hampton is the most expensive of the bunch as he is scheduled to count almost $8.057 million against the 2011 salary cap. He will be 35 come September and also suffered an ACL knee injury against the Broncos in the AFC Wild Card game. It is believed that Hampton is due a $1 million workout bonus in March and the injury could force the Steelers to delay the inevitable unless they can reach some sort of injury settlement. The Steelers can save $5.89 million with a conventional release prior to paying the roster bonus, so the knee injury could play a big part in the decision to do it early or not. Rest assured if he does play in 2012 for the black and gold, it will be at a much reduced rate. I just can\’t see that happening right now. ETA: After knowing his injury situation now & looking at further cap options with his contract, I think Hampton will be back next year, but just not at the big cap hit he currently has)
Chris Kemoeatu – His poor play, arthritic knee and nearly $5.262 cap hit in 2012 makes Kemoeatu an easy cut. The only question is it done before his $250 thousand roster bonus is due in march or do they wait until after June 1st to save an extra $1.434 in 2012. If he is cut before March 1st, he saves the Steelers nearly $2.4 million. After June 1st he saves almost $3.58 with $1.435 million deferring as dead money in 2013. Should he not get attention after his release, he can always be brought back for the vet minimum right before camp starts for depth purposes.
Hines Ward – The situation with Ward has already been well discussed. There is no way he plays at has $4.61 million price tag in 2012. Ward has said he is willing to take a pay cut to return and it will certainly need to be a big one. At best he is a 4th receiver, but in realty he is a 5th one. There will be some savings here, we just do not know how much just yet, but we should have our answer by March 1st.
James Farrior – I talked to his agent on Tuesday and he told me Farrior certainly wants to return for his final year under contract. He is scheduled to count $3.825 million against the cap in 2012 and just turned 37 years of age. Farrior has no roster bonus due so he could be released early and save $2.825 million. I have a funny feeling they might do some sort of restructure with Farrior to add another year in attempt to lower his 2012 number. They only have Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote with experience inside as Stevenson Sylvester has yet to play 75 snaps on defense. If Farrior returns he would likely come off on 3rd downs as Sylvester gets a bigger role. I am not 100% convinced Farrior has played his last game in black and gold.
Larry Foote – Right behind Farrior on the list is Foote. There is no way he returns at his 3.6 million cap hit number so he likely will be a casualty if he does not restructure. He left once and likely will not want to leave again. He will be 32 in June so it could go either way with him. He is an instant savings of $3 million against the cap if released.
Aaron Smith – Smith had another year added on in a restructure during the season to help the Steelers clear some cap room to sign Max Starks. With that restructure he is scheduled to count $2.984 against the 2012 cap. That is not happening and Smith will likely decide to retire after neck surgery this past season. I would be very shocked if he does not announce his retirement soon.
Jonathan Scott – Scott is not starter quality and is fringe backup quality at best. He is set to count $2.7 against the cap and no way is he worth that. I expect him to be released and that will be an instant cap savings of $2.2 million.
Bryant McFadden – McFadden basically was relegated to a special teams role after hamstring injuries and poor play dragged him down. He was the week 1 starting left cornerback but those days are long gone now. He is scheduled to count $2.67 million against the 2012 cap and a release will save the Steelers a cool $2.5 million. They can always bring him back for the minimum for depth and special teams purposes right before camp if they need to.
Will Allen – Allen is headed into the final year of his contract and is nothing more than a special teams player. He has played less than 50 plays on defense over the last two season and the Steelers are too strapped for cap room to pay him the $1.6 million he is scheduled to earn. A release is a savings of $1.28 million.
Arnaz Battle – Battle battled hamstring and knee problems this year and although he was the special teams captain, he is not worth the $1.362 million cap hit in 2012. Cutting Battle will save a little over $1 million.