Contract Options The Steelers Have With Hines Ward

There is a lot of talk about Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward right now as it relates to whether or not he will be back with the Steelers in 2012. This is far from being played out just yet but I want to use this post to look at what the least amount the Steelers can pay Ward in 2012 from a salary cap perspective and that would likely end up satisfying both sides.

Ward currently is under contract for 2012 and 2013 and his non guaranteed base salary in each of those years is $4 million. Notice I said not guaranteed. He also still has signing bonus proration on the books for 2012 and 2013 of $610K in each of those years. So right now Ward is scheduled to count $4.61 million against the cap in 2012 and 2013. Should the Steelers terminate his contract prior to June 1st, that leftover signing bonus proration escalates into 2012. So basically he would cost the Steelers $1.22 million against the 2012 salary cap if his contract is terminated. That makes the cap savings in $3.39 million in 2012 for the Steelers.

Now they can cut his base salary all the way down to $925K, the 10-plus-year veteran minimum, but the 2012 salary cap proration amount of $610K still adds to that $925K base salary. That would make his 2012 salary cap hit $1.535 million. That is just a straight pay cut. Would Ward really take a $3.75 million cut in base salary to play another year and save the Steelers $3.075 million against the 2012 cap? Mark Kaboly reported on Twitter Saturday night that he heard that Ward is willing to take a $2 million pay cut to stay. If that indeed is the case, his 2012 cap number would be $2.61 instead of $4.61 and saves the Steelers $2 million against the 2012 cap. Once again a straight pay cut of his 2012 base salary.

What about a restructure? The only restructuring really that can be done is to turn base salary into signing bonus and stretch out the proration over 2012 and 2013, assuming they do not add another year on to the contract, which I cant see why they would. If they turned $2 million of his $4 million base salary into signing bonus, and did not add on any years to his contract, his 2012 cap hit would then be $3.610 million and his 2013 cap hit would become $5.61 million. Now we know 2012 pretty much would have to be his last year with the Steelers, so basically the restructure would create $1.61 million in dead money in 2013. Not a very smart thing to do to just save $1 million against the 2012 cap in my opinion, but at least Ward does not take a pay cut that way. They could restructure the 2012 base all the way down to $925K, but that only produces a 2012 cap savings of $1.5375 million and makes dead money hit of $2.1475 million in 2013.

What about releasing him and signing him back to a qualifying contract like Mike Florio suggest? Once again his base salary would be $925K and although only $540K of that amount would count against the cap, you have to remember that the $1.22 million I mentioned above would then be on the 2012 books as a dead money cap hit next to the name of Ward. So basically Ward would still cost $1.76 million against the cap in 2012. That saves the Steelers $2.85 million on Ward versus what he was scheduled to count in 2012. This also assumes he does not get any signing bonus on that qualifying contract, the maximum of which I believe is $65K on a qualifying contract in 2012. All of the signing bonus tacks onto the cap hit as well.

Those are really the only options the Steelers have with Ward contract wise. If the Steelers do end up wanting him back in 2012, I see the $2 million pay cut as the only option to appease both sides. This saves the Steelers $2 million against the 2012 cap and satisfies the reported $2 million pay cut that ward is willing to take according to Kaboly.