It’s no secret that the Steelers are backed into a corner with the salary cap. The free agency period has certainly brought that to light. The somewhat saving grace was knowing that the release of Willie Colon would bring in about $5 million for the Steelers to use. When the Steelers signed Steve McLendon to a three year contract after his visit to Green Bay brought a scare, many readers and fans cried, ‘Now how in the world are we going to sign our rookies?!’ I have to admit that I was guilty of this cry of dispair at the time, but then I decided to look into rookie salary contracts.
Closing the Loopholes
Remember the NFL Lockout? After you recover from the shiver going down your spine, think back to one of the key issues in those negotiations (aside from all the revenue sharing griping BS) – the rookie salary pool. Even though the old CBA had rules of keeping cap hits against teams for signing rookies to only 25% increases, agents and players were crafty in manipulating the cap mechanisms, which made the 25% rule invalid. This is how guys who were selected #1-10 to get ridiculously huge four year deals. When the new CBA was negotiated during the lockout, this was a point of contention with the owners. The new CBA eliminates all the loopholes that existed and places a total salary cap value on the rookie class coming in for each team. They’ve also frozen the bonus money so that players in previous years do not have a bigger bonus than players in future years.
Rookie Pool Estimates
The Rookie Pool Estimate is the total amount of cash each team has when signing rookies. There is a limit to what rookies can get in their first year, a limit to their signing bonus, and an overall value that is the accumulation of the four year contract. That sum of the year one value is determined by how many picks (overall pick and round considered) the team has in the draft. For example, the Steelers have eight picks and have a Year One Pool value of $5.127 million against the 2013 cap, whereas the hated Patriots only have five picks and have a Year One Pool value of only $3.31 million against the 2013 cap. Though to note, this isn’t the only determining factor in the final assigned number by the NFL.
Here’s the entire breakdown of the Steelers 2013 Rookie Pool Estimate:
Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Rookie Pool Estimates
(Provided by overthecap.com)
The Rule of 51
This can be the most confusing thing about how the rookie class affects the salary cap. The Rule of 51 is thus: Only the top 51 cap charges (plus dead money) count towards a teams salary cap. Most teams have over 51 in their roster. What this means for the rookie class is that each rookie displaces another player who previously counted in the Rule of 51. At first we thought the Steelers would need $5.1 million to sign their rookies, but with the Rule of 51, it’s not as much. Most rookie players will make around $405,000 (rookie minimum in 2013). So if we multiply that by the number of picks the Steelers have, the Steelers really need $3.25 million to sign their rookies. Makes the McLendon signing not seem so bad now does it?
So the Steelers first pick at #17 will have a cap hit of about $1.583M, but will displace $480k in salary from the Top 51. That’s a net hit of $1.103M. From there, the hits are as follows: 2nd pick, ~$749k displaces another $480k salary with a net hit of just $269k. 3rd pick, ~$553k hit, with a net hit just $73k. After the fourth round, the hits fall below the Top 51, so only the bonuses count against the cap – which are very small at that point.
What’s the Bottom Line?
The bottom line is don’t panic. The Steelers have a bit of money still to work with to gobble up free agents either before or after the draft. Free agents like Max Starks and Casey Hampton. Or, maybe even Ahmad Bradshaw. The Steelers may have missed on keeping guys like Keenan Lewis, but Steeler Nation can rest easy that Colbert & Co. have plans in place on being able to sign (and even retain) all 8 of their draft picks.