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Solving Salary Cap Crunch Will Dominate Steelers’ Offseason Plans

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The Pittsburgh Steelers bowed out of the playoffs in unceremonious fashion, losing to the Cleveland Browns on Sunday night, 48-37 to end their once-promising 2020 season.

While many in Steelers Nation might lament that the loss might be the toughest to bear in recent memory, the loss might just be the tip of the pain fans will endure with the Steelers in 2021.

Most of that pain will be caused by the NFL’s salary cap.

The 456-page Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA outlines how revenue gets split between the two parties. A major chunk of the revenue shared between them is ticket sales, concession sales, along with other sales linked to fans attending games in person. These sales have been severely limited because of the pandemic and most seats at stadiums around the country have remained vacant during the 2020 season.

Because of lost revenue, the NFL has set the salary cap floor at $175 million,down from $198.2 million in 2020 and a projected $210 million in 2021. This has put a bind on teams who were counting on the additional salary cap space in 2021.

For years, Steelers have renegotiated the contracts in order to maximize cap space in a given season. While this system kept the team cap compliant for decades, the pandemic-related cap decrease has caused all of that kicking the can down the road to finally catch up with the team.

The team’s cap figure for 2021 currently sits at $204,576,260, give or take. Over the Cap lists a slightly lower figure. Furthermore, Pittsburgh only has 36 players under contract in 2021, and to bring the team back up to a full roster of 53 is going to get expensive. Here’s the full tab, in addition to the $29.6 million they’re already over the cap.

• 2021 NFL draft class: $7,528,342

• Eight players to get to the offseason rule of 51 at $660,000 each (minimum): $5,280,000

• 51st and 52nd players: $1,320,000

• 2021 practice squad: $1,400,000

• 2020 carryover (unspent 2020 cap space): -$6,000,000

All told, the Steelers will need to trim nearly $40 million from their current salary commitments for 2021. Compounding those cap issues will be the 19 players headed for unrestricted free agency that includes nine starters.

When and how will the 2020 AFC North champs need to get cap compliant? It’s going to be difficult. The relief via restructuring of contracts that helped cause the current cap crunch is only available for a handful of returning players and nowhere near enough to overcome the current cap deficit.

The With such little cap space that can be kicked down the road from 2021 contracts, the Steelers front office will have their hands full to get cap compliant by the first day of the league year, which is March 17. Steelers fans should circle St. Patrick’s Day on their calendars, and not just for green beer.

The pain of losing will not end with the stunning loss to the Browns. Tough decisions will have to be made regarding the roster. Some players will almost certainly have to be let go or pushed out, and there seems little chance the team can re-sign any of its high-value free agents or bring in others of note from the outside.

Pro Football Hall of Fame

HOF Voter Ed Bouchette Makes Hall of Fame Case for Former Steelers Guard Alan Faneca

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As the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee met Tuesday, The Athletic’s Ed Bouchette made the case for former Pittsburgh Steelers guard Alan Faneca.

Bouchette listed Faneca’s career accomplishments, of which there are many, and compared him to others league-wide and at his positions with similar credentials, demonstrating how it is long past time the six-time All-Pro received the football’s highest honor.

Selected in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft out of LSU, Faneca spent the first decade of his career in Pittsburgh before closing with the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals.

Faneca missed just two games over his 13-year career, was selected to nine-straight Pro Bowls and named First-Team All-Pro six times. He was also named to the All-Decade team of the 2000s and won Super Bowl XL with the Steelers.

The Class of 2021 will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 8, 2021.

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Pro Football Hall of Fame

Hall of Fame Selector Bill Polian Makes Case for Former Steelers Scout Bill Nunn

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With the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee meeting Tuesday to determine the next group legends to be enshrined, Hall of Famer and former general manager Bill Polian made the case for Pittsburgh Steelers scout Bill Nunn.

In his presentation, Polian especially highlighted Nunn’s impact as a revolutionary in the scouting process targeting historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Nunn’s vital scouting these underrepresented players and institutions proved vital in crafting the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s.

“He was the authority, while working for the (Pittsburgh) Courier, on HBCU football. He might well have been termed the Scout-in-Chief of HBCU football,” Polian said. “Bill Nunn helped create one of the greatest teams of all time.”

A Pittsburgh native, Nunn attended Westinghouse high school and West Virginia State College before embarking on a journalism career with the Pittsburgh Courier. Eventually becoming the managing editor of the paper, Nunn gained notoriety for his black college All-American teams, highlighting relatively unknown players at HBCUs.

Nunn’s expertise translated to his career with the Steelers, where his scouting led the organization to draft a number of legends form HBCUs, including L.C. Greenwood, Mel Blount, Ernie Holmes, John Stallworth and Donnie Shell.

Nunn would become the first Steelers nominated as a contributor if selected. Executives Art and Dan Rooney were inducted prior to the designation in 1964 and 2000, respectively.

The Class of 2021 will be enshrined in Canton, Ohio on Aug. 8, 2021.

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Steelers

Steelers WR Chase Claypool Named to PFWA NFL All-Rookie Team

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Steelers wide receiver Chase Claypool has been named to the 2020 Pro Football Writers of America NFL All-Rookie team.

Claypool was honored along with Minnesota Vikings wideout Justin Jefferson as the top 2020 rookies at the position. 

The Notre Dame product caught 62 passes for 873 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He also rushed for a pair of scores, tying Louis Lipps for the most touchdowns scored by a Steelers rookie with 11 total.

Claypool was the 11th wide receiver selected in the 2020 NFL Draft when the Steelers took him with the 49th overall selection. 

Claypool previously won the Joe Greene Great Performance Award as the Steelers’ rookie of the year.

This is the second straight season the Steelers had a PFWA All-Rookie member, as linebacker Devin Bush was a part of the 2019 squad. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebacker T.J. Watt were awarded in 2017.

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