Pittsburgh Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey decided to retire after 11 NFL season on Friday, leaving a hole in the middle of the Steelers offensive line for the first time in a very long time.
But while the Steelers will certainly miss their veteran center and nine-time Pro Bowler on the field, his departure will help lessen the salary cap crunch the team finds itself in ahead of the 2021 season.
Pouncey was set to make $14.475 million this season, in the final year of his contract. Instead, he will count as $6.475 million of dead money against the team’s salary cap while $8 million in salary will come off the books.
With an estimated salary cap of $180 million, the Steelers were over $31 million over the cap, even after the retirement of tight end Vance McDonald earlier this offseason. With Pouncey also hanging up his cleats, the team is now down to just over $24 million over the cap.
The team also expects to gain significant salary cap space from whatever happens with starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. If he retires or the team trades or releases him, they would save $19 million. He could also agree to play for a reduced salary or sign an extension to push some of his additional money into future seasons.
Roethlisberger will count at least $22.25 million toward the team’s cap this season no matter what. The team and star quarterback were reportedly supposed to meet this week. Steelers president Art Rooney II said that the team would need him to take a reduced salary in order to return to the team. Roethlisberger said that his salary in 2021 is not a concern to him.
The Steelers can also restructure the contracts of defensive linemen Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt and kicker Chris Boswell to save an additional $11.6 million under the 2021 cap.
The retirements of Pouncey and McDonald, along with restructuring those four other contracts, could get the Steelers salary cap compliant before the start of the new league year on March 17 without any further cuts, but the team will likely want to re-sign some of its free agents, particularly exclusive rights free agents like linebacker Robert Spillane and center J.C. Hassenauer. They will also need cap space to sign their 2021 NFL Draft class.