For as much as we all consider Pittsburgh Steelers Kevin Colbert and negotiating guru Omar Khan rather brilliant for their ability to keep a competitive team together for the last ten years, they sure have put this team into a financial crunch that has hurt this team for the last two seasons (and beyond). The salary cap has been unkind to the Steelers for quite some time, but the organization now has a ripe opportunity to get themselves out of debt and pave a road that leads to Super Bowl L and the San Francisco Bay area.
‘Restructuring’ seemed like such a sexy term when the front office started using it to defer monies due to players in order to try and keep others around. The logic seemed sound at the time – keep as many players as possible from a team that either won the division or made the playoffs. What restructuring has done, however, especially restructuring monster contracts from the highest played players, has caused the front office to slash and burn just to get under within the cap limits – leaving them outside contenders in free agency. It’s like that blind date you went on, had a pretty good time, went to bed with that blind date, only to wake up and discover your credit cards are gone off the night stand and that date is no where to be found. Except in the Steelers’ case, the ‘morning after’ is two mediocre seasons and a hangover that consists of having to watch LaMarr ‘Stay Puft’ Woodley rot on the IR.
That could all change for the Steelers this week and over the next few months. The NFL announced the salary cap increase went to $10 million for a total of $133 million as a payroll for each team’s roster. The Steelers currently sit at about $139 million, just $6 million over the new cap level. All the Steelers need to do is cut Levi Brown, who never played a single down for the Steelers (thank God), and will save the team $6.25 million. In just one stroke of the pen by crossing off Brown’s name the Steelers can be UNDER the cap. If that makes you feel good, it should. Usually the Steelers have to cut a few players and restructure a few more contracts just to get enough money to sign the incoming draft class.
Being under the cap by the end of this week and prior to the start of the new NFL season, puts the Steelers in a prime position. If you think I’m about to follow that statement with a list of free agents the team should sign, you’re not quite with me. I’m suggesting that the team avoid free agency as they always have in the past. There are only two key players the team should focus on doing the most they can to sign new contracts – Ben Roethlisberger and Jason Worilds. (You could even throw Heath Miller into this mix) Notice I also did not say ‘whatever it takes.’ This team needs to become much more fiscally responsible in order to stay competitive over the next decade, and the recent turn of events with the salary cap increase is the thing the need to help that happen.
The cap increase allows the Steelers to be much more aggressive in re-signing Jason Worilds back to a starting OLB position on defense. Rumors are swirling that Worilds will be highly sought in the market, and will go for a price that would normally be outside what the Steelers could dream of affording. Now they can…. within reason. They can have an offer and have the play to make counters knowing that in June, they can make some more cuts to the roster rather than restructure – in the form of LaMarr Woodley and/or Ike Taylor.
If monies are abundant after signing Worilds, they can begin negotiating with Roehtlisberger for a contract extension. This is something that needs to happen this offseason. Everyone in Steeler Nation’s spidey senses should be tingling over his new contract. If that doesn’t get done this offseason and if you thought the trade talk was bad enough last season, it will be even worse by the time November rolls around.
The team would be taking a chance at having another 8-8 season if they aren’t able to make significant improvements to the roster. But look at it this way – we were already staring that kind of season in the face before last season was even over. The draft was and continues to be the answer for this team. Why not continue with that plan and save all those dollar signs? There’s no guarantee that an overpaid outsider free agent would make any significant contributions to get this team beyond 8-8 anyways. The problems are throughout the roster and coaching, and one or two pricey FA’s aren’t going to right the ship. I disagree with guys like Scott Brown who are now heavily speculating that the Steelers will be extremely busy in free agency because they have $10 million extra to spend. $10 million might get you one really good player or a couple of decent players. Not the answer, and talk about Colbert being a fish out of water when it comes to the big FA market.
So save the money, sign who you absolutely need to from last season, and crawl/limp/stagger your way from salary cap hell. STAY AWAY FROM RESTRUCTURING! 2014 will be tough to take in, but it was going to be that way anyways. 2015 and beyond would look very promising, and the Steelers could have the financial firepower to make the deals they need to in order to get back to the Super Bowl for Lombardi Trophy #7.