INDIANAPOLIS — The Pittsburgh Steelers went through salary cap hell in the 2021 season.
They had a bad situation on their hands with a number of expiring contracts and big cap hits from veterans like quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and then the NFL’s salary cap shrunk for the first time in recent memory in response to reduced revenues from a pandemic-impacted 2020 season.
That forced the Steelers do some things they hadn’t done in the past in order to stay salary cap complaint and put the best possible team on the field for Roethlisberger’s swan song.
One of the things the Steelers tried for the first time in 2021 was using voidable years in contract language. The Steelers did it with a number of contracts, including restructures to Roethlisberger and Stephon Tuitt and new deals with JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cameron Sutton.
The voidable years allow the initial signing bonus to be spread out over more contract years while still paying the player the same amount, giving teams a mechanism to push more money from the current year into the future.
Fortunately for the Steelers, it doesn’t seem like they’ll have to keep doing that, even as they absorb nearly $20 million in dead cap hits in 2022 from engaging in the practice in 2021. The Steelers will still enter the 2022 offseason with more salary cap space than they’ve had in recent memory, and that means they don’t feel they have a reason to add more voidable years to contracts this season.
“Last year, we had to create room,” general manger Kevin Colbert said. “It was an usual year with the low cap because of the pandemic. We had to be open to new ideas. Will we use those types of ideas moving forward? I think that’s doubtful. Because, again, we’re getting back to something a little bit more normal with the salary cap. I never close the door, but we’ll probably get back to business as usual.”
The cumulative impact of constantly pushing salary forward caught up with the Steelers in 2021, and not having to go down that road this year provides a reset of sorts, and should keep the team’s cap problems from cropping up again in the near future.
In fact, the Steelers will probably be doing something they haven’t done much of in the past: being big players in free agency. Colbert says he can’t recall having as much cap space as the Steelers have with two weeks to go before free agency starts, and he acknowledged that he has the ability to make even more through restructuring and perhaps some releases.
With the Steelers flush with cash, it should make the start of free agency a day the team is looking forward to instead of one they’re dreading like usual.
“I think that’s exciting,” Colbert said. “It’s unusual. We’ll try to make the best decisions that we can. We can do some things now that we haven’t been able to do at this time previously. Usually, we may have to cut a player. We may have to restructure to create. Right now, we don’t have to create room to take the next step. Can we still do that down the road? Sure. But right now, we don’t have to do it.”