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How Can Steelers Make Salary Cap Space This Offseason?



Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick Omar Khan Salary Cap

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a lot of needs entering free agency this offseason, with a handful of current starters scheduled to hit the open market this March, but the Steelers salary cap situation doesn’t exactly lend itself to signing a bunch of new contracts right now.

Steelers Salary Cap 2/6The team has approximately $1 million in current offseason salary cap space, according to Steelers Now calculations. When considering known and estimated future expenses, the team is functionally over $21 million in the red for the 2023 season. 

That sounds bad, but the Steelers have many ways to create salary cap space this offseason. How can they make some space and how much more space can they make?

There are a handful of ways that NFL team can make more cap space. They can cut under-performing players, they can trade players away, they can restructure players that are currently under multi-year contracts, they can renegotiate the salary of a player under contract, or they can sign a player to a contract extension.

So which of those apply to the Steelers this offseason? Let’s dive in.


William Jackson

Washington Commanders cornerback William Jackson III (3) is seen during warmups before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys, Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, in Arlington, Texas. Dallas won 25-10. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

CB William Jackson III: The Steelers could cut Jackson, who is due $12.2 million in salary and bonuses this year, with zero penalty. When considering that the Steelers traded nothing to get Jackson, and he didn’t even play for the team after coming over in the middle of the 2022 season with a back injury, this almost seems like a no-brainer.

If they decide later they want him back, I would not predict a robust market for his services at this point.

OLB T.J. Watt: The Steelers could save $12.6 million by restructuring the contract of Watt, who is due $20 million in salary this season. Watt is set to count for 12.8% of the Steelers’ total salary cap, and that figure is currently predicted to fall as the cap rises the next few years, while Watt’s cap hit largely stays static through the end of his deal.

The good news about Watt’s contract is that it ends in 2025, meaning that any amount of money the Steelers push into the future with his deal will be resolved before the team needs to worry about a second contract for quarterback Kenny Pickett.

The downside to Watt’s deal is that his money for 2023 is already fully guaranteed. The usual refrain when players agree to restructure contracts is that it’s mutually beneficial, because players get their money guaranteed in the process. That’s not really the case for Watt this time around, but there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be willing to help the Steelers out, anyway.

This is another easy way for the Steelers to clear a big chunk of cap space, and you should probably expect it to happen.

FS Minkah Fitzpatrick: Restructuring Fitzpatrick’s deal would net the Steelers $10.1 million in cap space. Most of what applied to Watt above applies here. Fitzpatrick’s percentage of salary cap used is predicted to decrease throughout the rest of his contract, so a restructuring now makes sense.

He also is already guaranteed his 2023 salary, so he’ll need to be willing to make the change.

The one big difference is that his contract runs through 2026, so the $3.6 million or so that the Steelers would be pushing to each future year would come up against a potential Pickett extension in his fifth season. But it’s not so much money as to make the overall plan a bad idea.


The three above moves would net the Steelers just over $34 million in salary cap space for the 2023 season. That gets the team out of the red and gives Omar Khan and company at least something to work with when it comes to re-signing priority players like Cam Sutton and Terrell Edmunds. 

While some of those moves may have downsides, they seem overwhelmingly positive and therefore likely. This next set has some upsides and some downsides and are less cut-and-dried.


Steelers ILB Myles Jack

Steelers ILB Myles Jack warms up before the team’s game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 22, 2022. — Alan Saunders/Steelers Now

ILB Myles Jack: The cap hit for the Steelers’ veteran inside linebacker is leaping from $4.8 million in 2022 to $11.3 million in 2023. Jack was fine last season, but hardly a big difference maker on the field. He was a stabilizing force at an unsettled position for the Steelers.

Fellow inside linebackers Marcus Allen, Devin Bush and Robert Spillane are all set to hit free agency, and it is not thought to be an especially deep or talented draft class at the position. 

So while cutting Jack would save the Steelers $8 million in savings (with a $3.3 million dead cap hit), it would also create yet another hole that must be filled. A Jack-like player on the open mark would probably most of the money saved and there’s no guarantee of getting one in the draft.

The Steelers could cut Jack if they lock up one of their other free agents at the position and introduce some certainty to the spot. They could also look to extend him and spread his $8 million in 2023 salary over the length of a new contract as a signing bonus.

DT Cam Heyward: Heyward has two seasons left on his contract, and is set to count for a little over $22 million against the team’s cap in each of 2023 and 2024. 

The Steelers could do a traditional restructure with Heyward, which would save the team $7.3 million in 2023 and push that money into 2024, giving him a nearly $30 million cap hit. The lack of additional years to spread around the bonus makes restructuring Heyward a little tricker. It’s not like the Steelers won’t need that space in 2024, too. This team doesn’t feel close enough to the ultimate goal to make devil-may-care, win-now moves.

The better option for the Steelers would likely be signing Heyward to a contract extension, but it’s not exactly clear how long Heyward wants to keep playing at this point.

WR Diontae Johnson: Johnson is in the same situation as Heyward, with two seasons left on his contract. The Steelers could restructure it and save $4.7 million in 2023, pushing that money to 2024. That comes with the same caveats as above.

Additionally, if the Steelers have any interest in trading Johnson at some point, having that money as salary instead of signing bonus becomes a significant issue. Signing bonus stays with the singing team after a trade as a dead cap hit. Salary goes with the player to the new team.

If the Steelers trade Johnson now, they’d take an $11.6 million dead cap hit. Restructuring him would add to that total, and probably make such a move tough to work. The Steelers could also consider extending Johnson again, but will probably want to see increased production from his 2022 total before committing to that course of action.

Standing pat probably makes a lot of sense, but a restructure can also work if they really think they need that money for something important.

RT Chukwuma Okorafor: After playing under a modest $4.3 million salary cap hit in 2022, the three-year contract Okorafor signed before last season balloons to a $13.1 million cap hit in 2023. If the Steelers cut him with a post-June 1 designation, they would save nearly $7 million in cap space, clearing $10m from their books while incurring a $3.1m dead cap charge.

But Okorafor is the Steelers’ starting right tackle, and was probably no worse than the third-best member of their 2022 starting offensive line. If they land a tackle in draft, it’s more likely that the team would want to replace left tackle Dan Moore Jr., who struggled once again this season. Moore could move to right tackle, or the Steelers could look to add two tackles, but cutting Okorafor would certainly make their offensive line process this offseason complicated. 

They can also restructure Okorafor and save $4.5 million, but that would make his cap hit in 2024 a whopping $18 million. The most likely option is that he remains, not quite performing to the level of his cap hit, but far from the biggest problem on the Steelers’ offensive line.

QB Mitch Trubisky: Trubisky is currently scheduled to be an expensive backup quarterback in 2023, with an $8 million salary and a $10.6 million cap hit. But the Steelers can get away from it pretty cheaply. Only $2.6 million of Trubisky’s 2023 money is guaranteed, so moving on from him — either by cutting him of if they can find a trade partner — nets the Steelers $8 million.

The question is whether they’ll want to. The Steelers will have a second-year quarterback in 2023 that had an up-and-down rookie season. Pickett was fine for his draft slot, but his season-long numbers were all kinds of ugly. He was also concussed twice. Having a solid backup seems prudent.

Trubisky was that, actually playing better as a reserve than he did in his early-season run as a starter. Could the Steelers get that production for less than the $8 million in salary that Trubisky is owed for 2023? Probably.

Players like Case Keenum, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton, Kyle Allen and Chad Henne won’t break the bank. But they’re also likely to have turnover at the team’s other quarterback spot, with Mason Rudolph among those destined to hit free agency and unlikely to return.

The team could decide to just stay with the group they have. Perhaps they could convince Trubisky to take a pay cut for 2023. It seems unlikely that he’d want to sign an extension in a place that has a fairly secure starting quarterback situation going forward.

CB Ahkello Witherspoon: Witherspoon suffered a hamstring injury in Week 3 that essentially wrecked the rest of his 2022 season. He returned for one week and was clearly not ready, then went back on the IR.

The Steelers have Witherspoon under contract for one more season and he’s due just $5.5 million in total, so this is not a place where the team will make a big haul of cap savings.

But they seemed to get along just fine without Witherspoon for the rest of the season, and $4 million saved is $4 million saved. This is another player that the Steelers could approach about a salary reduction if cutting him outright is unpalatable.

They do have a lot of moving parts in the secondary, with Sutton, Edmunds and Damontae Kazee free agents and Jackson a likely cap casualty. They could bring Witherspoon back, or just keep him around for a while and see what the draft brings before making this decision.


The Steelers won’t do all of this second group of moves. They might not do any of them. But they do have some options if they feel like they need the additional cap space to shore up the safety, cornerback, inside linebacker and defensive tackle positions before the draft comes around.

Salary data from the NFLPA, Over the Cap and other sources.

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