The Pittsburgh Steelers have already made a solid dent in the 2012 salary cap problems that they faced heading into the offseason, but there is still a lot of meat left on the bone that needs to be chewed off. The release of Bryant McFadden and Arnaz Battle on Wednesday, combined with the expected contract restructures of LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, instantly slashed almost $15.25 million off of the 2012 cap number.
Currently I have the Steelers 2012 cap number at just shy of $129 million with the players currently under contract and the current dead money. That number does not include the 19 players they have signed to futures contracts since the season ended that totals out to be around $7.41 million or a little more by my best guess. It also does not include the three exclusive rights free agents that will be tendered or any of the seven restricted free agents that they will tender.
The exclusive right free agent contracts that will be tendered to Isaac Redman, Steve McLendon and Jeremy Kapinos should all total out to be around $1.78 million or so and of the seven restricted free agents, I expect all to be tendered except for Jamon Meredith. Mike Wallace is the only one of the remaining six restricted free agents that will get a 1st round tender, while the remaining five, Ramon Foster, David Johnson, Ryan Mundy, Doug Legursky and Keenan Lewis, will likely get the lowest original round tenders. If that turns out to be the case, the restricted tenders should amount to somewhere in the neighborhood of $9.3 million give or take.
When you add in the future contracts, the exclusive rights tenders and the likely restricted tenders on to the nearly $129 million of the players currently under contract, you get a total of nearly $147.5 million, which is still $22.5 million over the projected $125 million cap number for 2012. I urge you though to keep in mind we are working towards the rule of 51 number, so many of the futures contracts will not count towards the rule of 51 when the smoke clears in early March. So as you can see, just because there was progress made this past week, there is still a lot of meat to trim off of the bone salary cap wise.
While McFadden and Battle have been released, several cuts are obviously still on the way along with a few more restructures. Let\’s take a look at some more cap moves likely on the way that I have mentioned I while ago and play the mid February speculation game.
First up is the likely contract restructure of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He was restructured last year and I suspect something close to that will be done last year. My best guess is that they will turn $5.6 million of his $11.6 million base salary into a signing bonus and spread it out over the remaining 4 years of his contract. Should this end up being the amount, it would drop his 2012 cap hit from $ 16.92 million down to $12.72, a savings in 2012 of around $4.2 million.
Next up is Casey Hampton and his near $8.06 million 2012 cap charge. I am now convinced that Hampton will not be cut, but instead a straight restructure of his final year will be done or another year added on to help reduce his 2012 cap hit. Let\’s throw out a guess that his 2012 cap hit becomes $3.5 million. How it is done is not important right now, but the result would equate to a savings of around $4.5567 million. Keep in mind it could be even lower, but I am trying to be conservative in my guessing.
Following Roethlisberger and Hampton is Chris Kemoeatu and his $5.262 million cap hit. Releasing him outright saves $3.827 million if done so before his roster bonus is due. They could save a little more by waiting until June 1st, but right now I just do not think they can afford to.
Next on the money list is the well talked about Hines Ward, who has said he is willing to restructure his contract to stay in Pittsburgh. His 2012 cap hit reportedly is scheduled to be $4.61 million, so that can easily be trimmed down to a conservative amount of $1.61, which is a savings of 3 million. It could be lowered even more, but I am trying to allow some wiggle room.
Linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote are next on the list and right now I think one stays and one goes. If I had to lay bets right now here in February, I would say that Foote is the odd man out. That would create a cap savings of $3 million as his total cap hit is scheduled to be $3.6 million. For now we will leave Farrior and the final year of his contract alone that is scheduled to count $3.825 million against the cap.
Next up on the chopping block, that I also have mentioned previously, are Jonathan Scott and Will Allen. Scott is scheduled to count $2.7 million in 2012 and Allen is scheduled to count a hair over $1.6 million. By terminating both of their contracts, the total savings equates to $3.48 million. The great Aaron Smith is expected to retire and that should save another $2.11 million when that happens.
All of the cuts and restructures I have listed thus far total up to a savings of nearly $24.2 million, and that is being conservative with the contracts of Ward and Hampton in my opinion, but it will get the Steelers to spot where the can accommodate the rule of 51 when the new league year begins in March and the tenders are handed out. By my quick and sloppy math I have the rule of 51 total being in the neighborhood of $120 million, which would be 5 million under the projected $125 million if things play out exactly as I listed them, which I guarantee they likely won\’t. It should however be a very dirty, but close estimation though.
Now let\’s move backwards to some thoughts I had while writing this post. The early release of McFadden and Battle were likely done as a courtesy to give them a better chance to hook on with other teams and start shopping their services. Allen, who is a long time Mike Tomlin guy, I think would have been given that courtesy as well. Total speculation here on my part, but maybe Tomlin has ideas of trying to keep him around. Could Foote be included in that same type speculation as well? Reworking those quick and dirty numbers of mine around keeping both Allen and Foote, I come up with a rule of 51 number of $123.5 million, and keep in mind that the Steelers will have three $500K credits to use this year as part of the new CBA. Last year it was three $1 million credits, which the Steelers used. I am not saying they will indeed keep Allen or Foote, but the wiggle room certainly could be there should that be the plan.
Now keeping both Allen and Foote is a stretch I admit and we have to remember that the Steelers still need to accommodate a new contract for Wallace, the 2012 draft class and have a little room left to sign a few bottom priced unrestricted free agents, which usually end up being their own players. A few of their own that come to mind this year are Byron Leftwich, Charlie Batch and William Gay, should none of them get attention in free agency, and if they are indeed wanted back. For that reason I could see maybe a few more restructures done on players like James Harrison and Heath Miller. These restructures will be similar to the one that will likely be done with Roethlisberger where a portion of their base salary will be paid out as a signing bonus and amortized out over the remaining years of their contracts to lower their 2012 cap charge. Both Harrison and Miller restructured last year just like Roethlisberger. This would free up the a little more money to accommodate the draft class, the signing of a few bottom priced free agents and get Wallace signed to a long term deal.
If anyone can get all of the meat off of a salary cap bone it is the great Omar Khan, and while we have seen him already start to nibble in on it, there are bigger bites he still has to make. Like always, it will be fun to watch him shine up the salary cap bone.