Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo, Alan Robinson – Steelers Future Cap Woes Not As Bad As You Show

On Tuesday, Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review wrote an article that spells doom and gloom for the Pittsburgh Steelers salary cap situation, for not only this year, but the next few years as well.

The narrative of Robinson \’s article revolves around the Steelers restructuring of contracts and how it prevents them from being active in free agency as a result. Like they have ever been active in free agency?

Robinson writes, “Ben Roethlisberger, for example, is renegotiating his contract almost annually, and it is causing money to stack up against future caps. His contract counts $13.595 million against the cap this season, but that rises to $17.895 million in 2014 and also counts $17.395 million against the \’15 cap. And the Steelers already have more than $34 million counting against their 2016 cap because of the restructured deals of Woodley, Timmons and Brown.”

Robinson then adds a little dagger that is sure to get a rise out of most Steelers fans. “Constantly pushing money forward can limit their ability to be players for proven free-agent talent.”

Once again, when was the last time that the Steelers have ever been very active in free agency? Perhaps Robinson needs a history refresher concerning the free agents that the Steelers have signed since general manager Kevin Colbert came on board in 2000.

As far as the rest of Robinson\’s article goes, he missed an opportunity to twist the knife harder into the backs of Steelers fans, as his numbers for Roethlisberger are wrong. The Steelers quarterback is actually scheduled to count $18.895 million in 2014 and $18.395 million in 2015 after his latest contract restructure.

That error aside, when you look at the Steelers top ten salary cap hits in 2014, which you can see in the table below, you will notice that it totals out at $93,151,836. That top ten also includes guard Willie Colon and his $4.3 million dead money charge that will hit the 2014 books on June 2nd of this year.

While that $93 million looks like a lot right now, as it is 74% of an estimated $125 million 2014 cap number, you have to look closer at the names and numbers on the list and put yourself in the shoes of Colbert and Omar Khan.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, for starters, is all but certain to have his contract extended next off-season. That extension will include rolling a big chunk of his $12.1 million base salary that he is sceduled to earn into the signing bonus of his new deal. The result of that extension will be a drop in his 2014 cap number. How big of drop? My rough estimates say it will be around $5 million or so, but that is a shot in the dark right now.

Tight end Heath Miller will be entering into his final year of his current contract next off-season. Despite the knee injury that he suffered late last season, he should be fully recovered by then and all of 31 years old. Like Roethlisberger, he will more than likely receive an extension. That extension will lower his scheduled $7,966,500 2014 cap hit.

Center Maurkice Pouncey will also be entering the final year of his rookie contract next off-season and he too will be prime for an extension. While his $4.639 million cap number in 2014 doesn\’t seem all that big, it will be lowered some via an extension.

That now brings us to safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor, who like Colon and linebacker James Harrison this year, will both be elephants in the room next off-season. Raise you hand if you think that Taylor will be allowed to stay in 2014 with a base salary of $7 million. If he does, he better have had made the Pro Bowl in 2013 and registered three or four interceptions. It is a good bet that Taylor will be asked to take a pay cut next off-season, in what would be his final year under contract, or be released, the latter of which clears $7 million in cap space.

Polamalu is a giant long-haired enigma elephant right now. His play and ability to stay on the field in 2013 will make his 2014 status crystal clear. Just so you know, 2014 is the final year of his contract, and should he decide to retire or wind up being released, it will clear $8.25 million in cap space.

Linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons will more than likely have their contracts left alone next off-season, but should the team need additional cap space for whatever reason – say like a career threatening injury to Roethlisberger – there is money to be had via the restructure process. This far out, however, I don\’t think it will be necessary.

Wide receiver Antonio Brown, assuming he returns to his 2011 form in 2013, will be the first player that the Steelers go to if a restructure needs to be done next off-season.

So that\’s eight of the top ten cap hits in 2014 that we have addressed in this post with a ton of cap savings to be had. To recap, three players will likely be extended and one player, maybe two, will be restructured. The two elephants in the room will decide their own fates in 2013.

Will there be more releases and dead money hits next off-season, outside of what I listed above? Sure, but the contracts that linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback William Gay and tight end Matt Spaeth all signed this off-season are all cap friendly when it comes to potential dead money in 2014. In fact, should all three be released next off-season, it will only total out at $1,137,500 worth of dead money. Their cap savings alone, should all three be released next off-season, totals out to be $3,637,500, which could easily go towards a first year cap hit in a new deal for linebacker Jason Worilds, should he play well enough in 2013 to deserve one.

Robinson included a quote from Colbert talking about the salary cap in his article.

Steelers 2014 Top 10 Scheduled Cap Charges

Ben Roethlisberger$12,100,000$18,895,000
Lamarr Woodley$8,000,000$13,590,000
Lawrence Timmons$6,750,000$11,816,250
Troy Polamalu$8,250,000$10,887,500
Ike Taylor$7,000,000$10,454,168
Antonio Brown$6,000,000$8,470,000
Heath Miller$6,020,000$7,966,500
Maurkice Pouncey$1,288,375$4,639,000
Willie Colon$0$4,300,000
Cameron Heyward$1,289,322$2,133,418
TOTALS$56,697,697 $93,151,836

  • steeltown

    Wow.. I knew the contracts given to Foote, Gay and Spaeth were solid deals and very cap friendly, but I wasnt aware that if released in ’14 their dead money amount would be THAT friendly… $1.13MIL in dead money if ALL 3 are released??

    I say again, brilliant signings

  • CP 72

    Great article Dave. It will be interesting to see what Ed Reed gets money wise. It will give Troy an idea of what is market value would be. I thinks it’s safe to say it won’t be 8 mil/year. Polamalu is a different kind of guy. If struggles this year with injury he may just walk away from the game. I don’t see him hanging on for one more payday and be shadow of his former self. That is why I think they give Vaccaro a long hard look if he is there @ 17.

  • zyzak

    If the Steelers wanted to acquire free agent talent they would have to make big changes to how they do business. The fact is that most teams who have franchise QBs usually are in no position to be active at this time of year.. Perhaps this may be the case down the road when Ben retires, but not now.

  • Exactly and a 60 million dollar Franchise OLB in Woodley does not help their wallet either.

  • Ahmad

    Restructuring, when done improperly, can come back to bite you down the road but the Steelers have a few things working in their favor. First the extensions Dave mentions will clear a lot of cap space in the next two years. Next, even though the Steelers have restructured a lot of contracts lately, their cap numbers have gone down over the past two years. Last year we were like $23 million over the cap. This year, we went all the way down to almost $14 million under and next year should be even better. If this trend continues the Steelers should be in the clear by 2015 or 2016 what with the cap rising and everything.

  • steeltown

    If none of the top OLB/DE fall to #17, then yes I would hope they would either target Eifert or Vaccaro… of course if Sanders ultimately signs elsewhere that would stir things up a bit

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    That is still a mess. Your path to compliance next year is probably what will happen because there are very few other options.

    The fact is they are leveraged by contracts like Woodley’s who is above market value and already carrying so much pro-rated money. They effectively can’t cut him this year or next without incurring a cap charge greater than the salary savings. Polamalu’s salary should be reduced this year.

  • zyzak


  • steeltown

    Woodley definitely did not play to his contract in ’12, but saying he’s ‘above market value’ is a stretch, for the top OLB/DE pass rushers:

    Julius Peppers avg annual salary $14MIL, Dwight Freeney previous avg $12MIL, Demarcus Ware avg $11MIL, Suggs avg $10.4MIL, Woodley avg $10.25MIL

    I guarantee players like Aldon Smith, Clay Mathews and Von Miller who are due for new contracts soon will be receiving much higher annual salaries, its the market for pass rushers

  • Jefferson_St_Joe

    I don’t think he belongs in the class that you list. All the guys you mention are or were perennial defensive mvp candidates.

    It will be interesting to see what the Smith, Matthews and Miller get. The Packers and 49ers are not likely to overpay and I think salaries are moderating all over the league for non-qbs.

  • dennisdoubleday

    I did a post over at BTSC about this. Woodley ranked #15 in sacks/game for all players (20 sacks minimum) in the 2003-2012 time frame (and that is INCLUDING his bad last year and half.) So he is definitely an elite pass rusher if he gets back to form.

  • Dan

    Another hearty thanks to Dave for information and perspective we can only get at SteelersDepot!! But I’m still against the way our cap has been managed lately and much prefer the style we used in years past. I don’t like when our government kicks the can down the road and I don’t like when the Steelers do it.
    Also on the issue of cap management, and I know this isn’t Steeler related, but I’ve been following the Wes Welker war of words between his agent and Kraft. I think they really screwed him. I know Welker doesn’t have the right height, speed or age, but for somebody who is so consistently productive (and of course Brady gets a big part of that credit) I think he should be paid much more than he was. I’d write a check for more than $6mil per year in a heartbeat for 110 catches per year. Sure he’s not making a lot of explosive plays but think how many first downs that equates to.

  • Phil Heidenreich

    I’m no cap expert like Dave, but I think a big part of this ‘problem’ the Steelers have been in is due to the new CBA and having a flat cap for a number of years. It’s been illustrated quite clearly by the significant decline in market values of certain positions this offseason.

    Now I’m not sure how foreseeable this was before the lockout, but had we tried to keep players on at lower deals before we might be missing some of the key names we still have on the team.

  • Kevin Gobleck

    Khan, gotta love him and his math powers