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
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
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.