Who Goes: Pittsburgh Steelers Stuck ‘Paying Up’ For 2014, 2015

Oct 20, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice (27) runs the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) during the second half at Heinz Field. The Steelers won the game, 19-16. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers have deferred their debt in the way of restructuring contracts for the last five to six years.  And while that has allowed the Steelers to limp along in their finances from year to year, it has planted a seed that is about to grow into a big and hateful debt collecting tree – yeah nothing like that goofy money tree from those Allstate Insurance commercials either.  I’m sure that if Omar Khan and Kevin Colbert are looking at the payroll for the next two seasons, they are sweating bullets, and maybe even saying to themselves, ‘Dear God, what have I done?’  No matter how you slice the debt pie, the Steelers are in some big trouble because the salary cap isn’t growing large enough to allow the team to pay up what is owed.  This isn’t even considering the cost of some other free agents coming up this offseason, such as Jason Worilds, Brett Keisel, and Ziggy Hood.  Somebody… more like many bodies, are going to have to walk and/or be let go come this offseason.  But who?

Let’s take a look at who is at the top of the payroll slated for 2014 and will be a free agent after.  We’ll go most to least.

Ike Taylor – $11.9 million

Troy Polamalu – $10.9 million

Heath Miller – $9.5 million

Maurkice Pouncey – $5.5 million

Cameron Heyward – $2.1 million

David DeCastro – $2.1 million

Dec 15, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu (43) stands on the field against the Cincinnati Bengals during the third quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 30-20. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s stop here with this list.  Those are some big dollars.  After DeCastro, the contracts get under the two million mark and aren’t very damaging, nor is there a free agent that will be demanding a big raise after this list (for now).  This list is interesting because at the top you have three vets who are over the age of 30.  Troy certainly has lost a few steps and has struggled to be the huge force he is so reputable of.  One could say the same thing about Ike.  Heath is steadily coming back from his brutal knee injury and looks as if he could continue being a top performer.  Pouncey, Heyward, and DeCastro are young and have proven themselves as valuable members of this team.  There’s no way those three get cut in 2014, and all three will more than likely get offers from the Steelers barring any catastrophe during the last season of their contracts.  But what to do about Ike, Troy, and Heath?  Do the Steelers cut any of them?  Do any get extensions?  I would not be surprised if Heath Miller lasts as long in this league as someone like fellow TE Tony Gonzalez has, and I’m sure the Steelers will attempt to keep him around for as long as they can.  Should the Steelers cut Ike?  Troy?  Both?  Yes, the Steelers take a lump on the head for the dead money, but it will be less than their combined salaries.  If either is to stay around, Ike is more than likely the one to get an extension.  2014 will probably be Troy’s last with the Steelers, and he’ll probably retire from football.  It’s a tough decision, but I would not be surprised if the team makes a move this offseason on one of those three vets.

Let’s take a look at other fat contracts slated for 2014 and 2015.

Ben Roethlisberger – $18.9 million, $18.4 million

LaMarr Woodley – $13.6 million, $14.1 million and beyond

Lawrence Timmons – $11.8 million, $12.5 million and beyond

Levi Brown – $6.2 million, $5.2 million and beyond

Steve McLendon – $2.9 million, $2.8 million

Ramon Foster – $2.1 million, $2.4 million

Nov 25, 2012; Cleveland, OH, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Steve McLendon (90) before a game against the Cleveland Browns at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Cleveland won 20-14. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the mystique reporting of Ian Rapoport, I find it an impossible scenario where the Steelers trade or release Big Ben.  So, even though he is the highest payed player on the team, he’s also the face of this franchise.  Big Ben’s staying put, and the Steelers will more than likely try and work out another three to four year extension with the 31 year old in the next season or two.  So where can the Steelers trim the fat? (Pun intended)  LaMarr Woodley has been rather worthless since his contract extension and continues to be more and more of a disappointment with each injury laden season, like this one.  He’s owed some big dollars over the next three seasons and is certainly not worth it – especially with the emergence of Jason Worilds, who they could decide to sign to a longer contract at the end of this season.  Timmons is a tough nugget because he’s the only thing keeping the middle of the field from being torched all game long.  He’s costing a lot of dough, but is overpaid like Woodley.  Seeing what Levi Brown is owed over the next two seasons is just dumbfounding – why did the Steelers agree to sign this guy when he is injury prone and owed so much money?  McLendon and Foster round out the $2 million Club.  So who gets cut with this amount of cash on the table?  I think the Steelers suck up the hit from dead money and cut Woodley for certain.  Levi Brown is also gone too.  Brown was done before he even started when he was added to the roster, and with the offensive line holding up well the last few weeks without him, he should be a no-brainer in becoming a casualty to the cap.  McLendon’s a bit of a wild card.  Will the team let him ride out his contract and then leave as a free agent?  The Big Ragu (Foster) will stay for the next two seasons as long as he stays healthy.  He may even get a contract extension as either starter or backup depending on how the draft goes over the next two years.

So who stays and who goes?  One thing is for certain, there will be cap casualties in 2014 and in 2015.  If not, the Steelers brass are money managing this team into oblivion.

 

 

Topics: Pittsburgh Steelers

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  • Dom DiTolla

    Raise your hand if you said that handing LaMarr Woodley a lucrative, long-term contract would be a horrible idea back in March of 2011? Lol.

    I hate to be ‘that guy,’ but how right was I about that?

    In all seriousness, this franchise is going to be stuck in cap hell for the next few offseasons.

  • JB

    This really isn’t much different from the past few years. Levi Brown will be cut. Ike will be offered a pay cut or nothing – i suspect he will accept a reduced salary. Troy has been pretty healthy and would be more of an impact if allowed to play his real position all year – he stays at perhaps a pay cut or a short contract extension that reduces the cap hit for next season. Woodley is staying. would cost just as much to cut him as keep him. No choice but to keep him and hope that he can regain form. Worilds will not be signed. remember, he has not been able to stay healthy for years even in a backup role. someone will overpay him and be disappointed about it in a year. Mclendon isn’t going anywhere – they just signed him and he’s a valuable and versatile DL. Ben and Timmons also are going nowhere – and are both candidates for restructuring or extension, both of which would be arranged to ease the cap hit in the early years. Brown will most likely be restructured this off-season. Are there very difficult and potentially painful cap decisions? Absolutely, but there are solutions available.

    • Craig

      All valid, but don’t you think that this team needs to stop deferring its debt by restructuring the big contracts every year?

      • JB

        That would be great, if possible. But this is a team and franchise that is in a mode to compete every year – a “bite the bullet” salary dump resulting in several rebuilding years would not be tolerated by this franchise or its fan base. Especially when you still have a franchise caliber QB with some prime years left. In this salary cap era, with these contracts, I’m afraid that some amount of restructuring is going to be inevitable. Hopefully, they can reduce the amount of restructuring from year to year and slowly work out of these debts. I agree, that it doesn’t feel good, but I think that this is the nature of the business these days.

        • Craig

          Honestly I feel like the fan base would understand a rebuilding season or two. They wouldn’t be incredibly happy about having to reach that point, but I think admitting to rebuilding would be way more forgivable than what fans have had to go through the last two seasons.

          I can’t believe that this team can continue to restructure without that house of cards toppling down in just a couple of years. The NFL has been pretty clear over the last few seasons that it does not plan on increasing the cap significantly in the near future. That does not bode well when you have about six strong players that need paid. You need more than that to play both sides of the ball and be competitive.

  • Carl Eagan

    Troy is still one of the most feared defenders in the game and unless he decided to retire should be extended. Ike on the other hand has been at best inconsistent this year and he really hasn’t been shutting down many receivers this year. Saying Troy hasn’t been productive this year is either totally ignoring the fact or just unaware that Troy was asked to play a different role this year and basically play middle linebacker since Foote’s injury. Timmons is arguably one of the best middle linebackers in the NFL, he’s exceptional playing the run, rushing the passer and in coverage and teams pay for that kind of talent. The problem is that under Cowher when a player became too expensive there was always somebody to step up and fill the void with little to no drop off in productivity. Now without Cowher picking the players the team has very little depth with the talent to fill the void.

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