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.
Packers Could Pass Steelers in All-Time Playoff Wins in NFC Championship Game
The Green Bay Packers can pass the Pittsburgh Steelers in the NFL record books with a win in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday.
The Packers and Steelers are currently tied with 36 all-time NFL playoff wins, the second-most behind the New England Patriots, who have 37.
The Packers will be playing the man responsible for most of those wins in New England, now-Tampa Bay quarterback Tom Brady.
Both the Packers and Patriots have a higher postseason winning percentage than the Steelers, with New England holding a 37-21 record and Green Bay 36-23, while Pittsburgh is 26-26 after a Wild Card Round loss to Cleveland this month.
None of the other top five teams, including Dallas (35-28) and San Francisco (32-30) are still alive this year. Tampa Bay has just eight playoff wins in its history, the sixth-fewest in league history.
The Buffalo Bills (16-17) and Kansas City Chiefs (14-19) are 19th and 20th in playoff wins entering their AFC Championship Game showdown on Saturday.
Mike Tomlin: Hall of Fame Class of 2021 Incomplete without Steelers Scout Bill Nunn
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t get a vote when it comes to who enters the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he made his opinions known on who he thinks should be a part of the Hall’s Class of 2021, making a public plea on Monday for former Steelers scout Bill Nunn to be included.
“There is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it,” Tomlin wrote.
Nunn, who died in 2014, was selected as the lone finalist recommended by the nine-member contributor committee in August. He, senior committee finalist Drew Pearson, coaches committee finalist Tom Flores and 15 modern-era finalists, including former Steelers guard Alan Faneca, will all be on the ballot when the voters meet before the Super Bowl.
Nunn, a Homewood native and Westinghouse alum, was a key figure in the Steelers’ success in the 1970s and helped revolutionize the scouting process for players at historically black colleges and universities, that had been previously underrepresented in the NFL after having worked as a sportswriter with the Pittsburgh Courier.
“Bill’s contributions to the Steelers were extraordinary over the 46 years he was part of the organization,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a press release in August. “He was a special person that was a close friend and mentor before his passing in 2014. His lessons and stories are still evident in our everyday work.
“I look forward to hopefully celebrating his induction next year at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His legacy and career deserve to be recognized with the greatest individual honor in football, and we are excited he was chosen by the contributor committee as a finalist.”
Tomlin also wished luck to three players that he coached: former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive backs Ronde Barber and John Lynch and Faneca.
Want to wish the absolute best of luck to three deserving @ProFootballHOF finalists, Ronde Barber, Alan Faneca and John Lynch, all who I have had the honor to work with.
And there is no way the Class of 2021 can be complete without the legend, Bill Nunn, being a part of it.
— Mike Tomlin (@CoachTomlin) January 18, 2021
Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick, T.J. Watt Named to PFWA All-NFL Team
For the second season in a row, Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and outside linebacker T.J. Watt have been named to the Pro Football Writers of American All-AFC and All-NFL teams for the second consecutive season.
Fitzpatrick was also named an Associated Press All-Pro this season for the second straight year. In 2020, Fitzpatrick had 79 total tackles, eleven passes defended and a team-high four interceptions, one of which he returned for a 37-yard touchdown.
The other All-NFL and All-AFC safety was Tyrann Mathieu of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Watt was also named a first-team AP All-Pro after leading the NFL in sacks, tackles for loss and quarterback hits. His 15 sacks were one off a franchise record and he racked them up while playing in only 15 games.
Watt was named the FOX Sports NFL Defensive Player of the Year and remains the favorite to win the prestigious AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year award at the postseason NFL Honors banquet.
Watt was also named the Steelers’ team MVP for the second straight season after finishing with 53 tackles, 26 tackles for loss, 41 quarterbacks hits, two forced fumbles and an interception this season.
The other All-NFL outside linebacker was Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears, while Bradley Chubb of the Cleveland Browns was the other All-AFC outside linebacker.
Both players were also selected to the 2021 NFL Pro Bowl team. The Pro Bowl will not be played. Instead, the Pro Bowl events will be led virtually and the game will be streamed via Madden NFL 21.
Only the Steelers and Los Angeles Rams had two All-NFL players on defense, tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The Green Bay Packers had the most players selected with three, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, tackle David Bakhitiari and wide receiver Davante Adams.
Full All-NFL team:
2020 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM
QB – Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
RB – Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings; Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans*
WR – Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers; Stefon Diggs, Buffalo Bills
TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
C – Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers
G – Joel Bitonio, Cleveland Browns; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts#
T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Jack Conklin, Cleveland Browns
DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints
DT – DeForest Buckner, Indianapolis Colts; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams^
OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh Steelers*
MLB – Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers
CB – Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins; Jalen Ramsey, Los Angeles Rams
S – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Tyrann Mathieu, Kansas City Chiefs
PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#
P – Jake Bailey, New England Patriots
KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Chicago Bears*
PR – Gunner Olszewski, New England Patriots
ST – George Odum, Indianapolis Colts