We’re embarking on one of the most vital off-seasons in recent memory for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as their chances of winning a Super Bowl appear to be closing sooner rather than later. The Steelers historically have not been big spenders in free agency, as the organization prefers to keep players in-house and raise their own through the NFL Draft.
Yet history may be re-written in 2019, as the Steelers have the opportunity to add key pieces to their championship puzzle with veteran experience. Pittsburgh currently sits with $14.3 million in total projected cap via Spotrac.com, and with the dismissal of running back Le’Veon Bell, the team will be able to focus on more prominent areas of the team.
The Steelers free-agent interest mostly revolves around finding a pass-catcher to potentially replace receiver Antonio Brown, who has all but earned his one way ticket out of Pittsburgh. With names like Demaryius Thomas and Golden Tate topping the list of potential free-agents, the Steelers may need to break out the checkbook like they did for Brown if they would like to replace him.
If not the receiver position, the Steelers may also look for improved secondary help after another disappointing year outside of every cornerback with the exception of Joe Haden.
Wherever they choose to spend it, the more money for the club, the better. How could they navigate the cap and clear even more space for potential free agents? Thankfully, I took the liberty of sitting behind a computer with no real life consequences for making moves and figured the best route possible for the Steelers.
Using Spotrac’s Salary Cap Management tool, we are able to find fun ways to finesse the salary cap and create as much space as possible.
The road to wealth for the Steelers goes as follows:
Restructuring Ben Roethlisberger’s Deal
Per Yahoo! Sports, the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are expected to restructure Roethlisberger’s contract. The move will come to help relieve the cap hit Antonio Brown will leave, which will be $21 million if traded before June 1, and with the Steelers wanting to find Brown’s replacement sooner rather than later, it’s plausible to see Pittsburgh trading him before summer hits.
So how much would Big Ben offer to have taken off his checks? Thankfully, Roethlisberger has been extremely helpful in assisting the Steelers and their cap situations. In 2012 and 2013, Roethlisberger restructured his base salary to help generate cap room. In 2012, Ben went from $11.6 million in salary earnings to $900,000. In 2013, he dropped from $11.6 million to $2.6 million.
2012 savings= $10.7 million
2013 savings= $9 million
In 2015, Roethlisberger signed a 4 year, $87.4 million extension. That figure averages out to $21.85 million per season.
While Ben makes money per season on his current contract as opposed to his first big payday, we’ll use roughly the same figure ($10 million averaged between 2012/2013) for 2019’s restructure. With Roethlisberger’s generous history and being on the verge of winning another title, Ben takes the hit to make a few more runs at a championship.
Roethlisberger’s 2019 salary= $13.2 million
Total Cap Savings= $10 million
Total Cap Space= $24.3 million
Trading Antonio Brown
While Antonio Brown continues to stress the importance of guaranteed money in his next deal, the Steelers will have to hold a big portion of his 2019 salary. As previously mentioned, the Steelers will accrue a cap hit of $21 million in 2019 regardless of where Brown plays, so long as he is traded before June 1. Yet if Brown is traded before March 17, the Steelers will not have to pay him a $2.5 million roster bonus.
If Brown is traded, draft picks are the likely return Pittsburgh will be looking for in a trade. While a player in return is indeed possible, the player/salary is too complicated to predict, marking a straight up trade of Brown for draft capital.
The Steelers will save $1,045,000 with Brown off the roster this season. A trade is all but inevitable, as Brown has burned most if not all bridges with the organization.
Antonio Brown= Traded
Total Cap Savings= $11.045 million
Total Cap Space= $25.4 million
Releasing Morgan Burnett
Just over a month ago, safety Morgan Burnett made it publicly known he wanted out of his current deal with the Steelers. With Burnett missing time due to injuries (a staple of his career) and his overall play not jumping off the page (30 total tackles while only playing 10 games in 2018), Pittsburgh may feel the same way.
Two young safeties in Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis would allow Burnett to be released with no hard impact on the defensive side of the ball. A mutual split between Burnett/Pittsburgh would benefit both parties and allow the Steelers more cap relief for 2019, while sacrificing no serious impact on the roster. Cutting Burnett will allow the Steelers to save $3.6 million in salary cap space, despite owing Burnett $2.8 million in dead money if released.
Morgan Burnett= Cut
Total Cap Savings= $14.678 million
Total Cap Space= $29.062 million
Restructuring Cam Heyward’s Deal
Cam Heyward has evolved into a vital, important leader on the Steelers defense. The defensive linemen was rewarded for his growth on and off the field with a 6 year, $59.2 million contract in 2015. Heyward, similar to Roethlisberger, has restructured his deal to assist the team when needed in the past. Both in 2017/2018 Heyward allowed Pittsburgh to rework his deal to create cap space, converting $4.225 million in 2017 and $8.085 million in 2018 into a signing bonus.
The moves cleared up an average of $4.275 million the last two seasons, and that’s the figure we can use to create a general idea of what possible outcome may occur this off-season (We’ll use $4 million as a rough estimate). Heyward’s proven to be a team player, and the Steelers just might dial his number once again for one more cap favor.
By converting his salary into a bonus and paying the league minimum salary, the team will save $3.91 million in 2019.
Cam Heyward’s 2019 Cap Hit: $10.991 million
Total Cap Savings: $18.588 million
Total Cap Space: $32.97 million
With the above moves, the Steelers would generate nearly $20 million more in cap room, giving them immediate flexibility in free agency and spending money to land a couple big free agents if needed.
Steelers Coaches Return to Team Facility
With the NFL announcing that coaching staffs can return to team facilities, the Steelers wasted no time getting back to work.
Steelers coaches, including head coach Mike Tomlin, returned to the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Friday morning.
Back in the building— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) June 5, 2020
With Pennsylvania switching over to the “Green Phase” of its COVID-19 reopening plan Friday, the Steelers were one of the organization permitted to welcome back their staffs, but only if they adhere to local and state guidelines.
The team shared a few photos of Tomlin entering the facility, including an image of the 14-year head coach getting his temperature taken in the lobby. Daily checks are clearly part of the league’s protocols with regards to reopening.
To this point, the bulk of the NFL’s offseason has been conducted remotely, including the Draft and free agency.
Tomlin is most likely excited to return to some sense of normalcy. He discussed how challenging the adjustment had been on a conference call last month.
“We face a lot of challenges, my mentality, and the group mentality is going to be they are challenges that everyone faces,” said Tomlin. “From that standpoint it’s going to be fair and the playing field is going to be level. We have to be light on our feet. There is going to be a period of adjustment from a scheduling standpoint as we gain our footing in terms of logistics of what day-to-day looks like and things of that nature.”
“The entire National Football League will be going through it and I just think if we perform relatively better than others, we put ourselves in position to be that team at the end of the journey. That is always our mentality regarding the start of a season.”
The only team employees that had previously been allowed in facilities were athletic trainers and rehabbing players.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has not yet announced when all player will be permitted to return, but did note in his memo to clubs Thursday that the league is first attempting to finalize their COVID-19 testing program.
NFL Announces Coaches can Return to Team Facilities
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has announced that coaching staffs may return to team facilities Friday, June 5 in a memo issued to teams Thursday morning.
Here is the crux of the memo that just went out to teams from the NFL regarding coaches being back in the building safely. Still no players, but a reason for optimism. pic.twitter.com/A8LyqqHJK3— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) June 4, 2020
Staying consistent with their message throughout the reopening process, coaches may return only if clubs have “received necessary permission from state and local governments.”
Clubs were informed last week that coaches will count towards the maximum number of employees permitted in facilities, but the total number allowed will increase from 75 to 100 tomorrow as well.
While Goodell has not yet announced when all players will be cleared to return, he did add that the league is still working “with clubs medical staffs to implement a program of COVID-19 testing” prior to players coming back.
Injured and rehabbing players were some of the first who received the green light to return to team facilities, and have been back for a few weeks now.
Club facilities were initially closed by the league back on March 25 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While coaches are likely eager to return to their team facilities, they should make themselves comfortable for the long haul.
Goodell’s memo comes a day after multiple reports that the league informed franchises they must conduct training camp from their practice facilities this August.
This would mean the Steelers will be prepping for the season on the South Side, instead of making a 55th-consecutive trip to St. Vincent College in Latrobe.
Art Rooney II, Steelers Issue Statements on Killing of George Floyd, Protests
Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II released a statement Wednesday on the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers and the ensuing protests seen across the nation.
“Over the last week, we have witnessed the anger and frustration in our city and around the country relating to the killing of George Floyd and the recent deaths of African-American men and women. We have also witnessed the good in so many people who have peacefully expressed their concerns.”
“I am proud to hear the voices of many of our players who have spoken out against racism and injustice and called for unity. As an organization, we will continue to listen to our players, coaches, alumni and leaders in our community and work together to bring awareness and change in the effort to create a more fair and equal community.”
A number of prominent Steelers players also shared statements and comments regarding Floyd’s death and the nationwide protests, including Cam Heyward, Ben Roethlisberger, James Conner, Vince Williams, JuJu Smith-Schuster and T.J. Watt.
Defensive end Cam Heyward:
“A friend, a brother, a father, a son, just someone you meet, these are different ways people might know George Floyd. To know that the color of my skin could be at the discretion of someone who is supposed to protect is truly disheartening. I’m praying for the Floyd family.”
“To know a brother, a friend or someone I care about could be gone due to this just hurts. It’s not acceptable. Thank you for the people who do serve the right way and continue to protect our freedoms. I wish all held up his end and cared for all.”
“We all have people we care about and the fact that we can’t believe in everyone who is in the position of power to keep all safe angers me and tears me up. Change must happen. Our children are inheriting a world that is not improving. Life should be precious.”
“I still can’t find my words to make sense of it all. Too many have died, and not enough has changed.”
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:
“The cruelty and injustice must stop, racism must end, and love must find a way to prevail. We are all children of God, equal in his eyes, and must hold one another accountable to fair and just standards.”
Running back James Conner:
“If we keep showing hate and violence, we will continue to have hate and violence. If we keep showing peace and love, we will have peace and love. I’ve retweeted disturbing and negative videos to HOPE they understand, but I will only be posting love from here on out. We know what’s been done and know it’s wrong.
“Make the Twitter timeline full of positivity. Like I said, I’ve been guilty of retweeting negative content, but that’s not it. They want the sickening and shameless videos at 100,000+ retweets to keep us divided. Make unity and togetherness the only content we see.”
Inside linebacker Vince Williams:
“Send me the GoFundMe of businesses that have been destroyed by the riots. I’ve done independent searches, but hopefully this helps me to be more thorough.”
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster:
“Our country is in pain right now, and coming together is the only way to heal each other. No more injustice!”
Outside linebacker T.J. Watt: