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New Salary Cap Will Have Effects on League-Wide Contracts

While every team gets more space to work with, the Steelers get enough of a boost with the new salary cap number for one key reason.



Steelers HC Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin against the Green Bay Packers, Nov. 12, 2023 - Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

The NFL salary cap rocketed to $255.4 million on Friday, meaning that all teams will have more breathing room than the anticipated $242.5 million number initially reported. It does not seem that number caught most teams off guard, as their actions showed throughout the league. The Steelers, in particular, released Mitch Trubisky, Chuks Okorafor, and Pressley Harvin III early, moves that allowed them to become cap-compliant.

After releasing Mason Cole, the team now has around $9 million in cap space, according to Steelers Now analysis. Before the start of the 2024 regular season, they will need to pay workout bonuses, sign their rookie class, account for the 52nd and 53rd players on the roster, sign a practice squad, account for players on the injured reserve and leave space for in-season acquisitions. All told, the Steelers likely need to clear another $10.5 million or so from their 2024 salary cap commitments.

They have several avenues of achieving that savings, as the team can cut, restructure, or extend the contract of several veteran players, including Cam Heyward, Allen Robinson II, Patrick Peterson, Larry Ogunjobi, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Alex Highsmith.

But you see those numbers for teams, and the Steelers still rank in the bottom 10 for cap space. Every team now has more space to work with, and naturally, contracts will likely go up as players realize they have more room to work with, too. But the teams that really end up winning here on the ones with superstar contracts already stowed away. Those will begin to look more like bargains, and in the Steelers case, having T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alex Highsmith, and others under contract will look mightily cheap this offseason. Highsmith’s deal is not even old, but that will not be a deal that ages badly relative to his value.

So, take it for what it is, but that dramatic spike in contract costs is where the real lines will be met. Teams with superstars under long-term deals will get the biggest benefit. The Steelers happen to be one of those teams with their high-end players under long-term deals on the defensive side of the ball. They have moves to make, but expect the team to be able to add a few pieces in free agency as a result of those superstar contracts looking like bargains.

Watt, for example, will be paid far less than he would have if the contract were to come around in 2024. His contract could exceed $35 million, but his deal came in at around $27.5 million per year, with two years left. That’s the type of win that teams get with dramatic increases to the salary cap like this one.