Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert signed a one year extension with the team keeping him with the team through the 2021 NFL draft.  On the surface, this isn’t very newsworthy.  Colbert has made it clear he will be taking things year to year going forward.   What is curious is how it relates to several other contracts on the team.  Head coach Mike Tomlin’s contract is up at the end of the 2021 season as well.  Then there is the fact that there are only a handful of player under contract past this season.  Add all these factors up, and it means the Steelers will look very different in 2021.

The big three:

It is not a coincidence that the contracts of Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and Ben Roehtlisberger all come to an end by the completion of the 2021 season.  Envisioning the Steelers without all three once their latest contracts expire is not a stretch.  It may not even take that long however.  By the beginning of next season Mike Tomlin will be entering the final year of his contract. It is rare for any coach to enter a season as a lame-duck, so the Steelers will have a decision to make as to whether or no to extend Tomlin once again.

Ben Roethlisberger is signed through the 2021 season, but will the Steelers still want him by then?  He will have a whopping $31.5 million cap charge in the last year of his deal.  Pittsburgh could save $19 million of that cutting him prior to the season.  A lot will depend on how Roehtlisberger bounces back from his injury During the 2020 campaign.  Any signs of struggling, and this could be the last time we see number seven in a Steelers uniform.

Tomlin and Colbert have been jockeying their contracts to coincide with Roethlisberger’s for some time.  They all are tied together for one last run at the Super Bowl before they all ride off into the sunset.  If Roehtlisberger can not come back from his injury, should we expect a domino affect where all three are gone after 2020?  It’s a good bet that if Roehtlisberger goes, the other two will follow.

The rest of the roster:

In an article posted back in March (Do the Steelers have a two year plan?, we go over the fact that all but one players contacts are up by 2021.  Stephon Tuitt is the only player signed through 2022.  We may get a clue on some long term plans by the way the team handles the Bud Dupree contract.  There is a very real possibility that he is given the franchise tag, meaning the Steelers will remain with just the one contract on the books heading into 2022.

Even among the players signed through 2021, there would be minimal cap hits should the team decide to move on.  Steven Nelson could be cut with only a $2.5 million cap hit.  Maurkice Pouncey would only cost the club $3 million if he were let go after this season.  While it is extremely unlikely, the Steelers could get out of the David DeCastro contract with a measly cap hit of only $1.6 million.  Cutting these players and Ben Roehtlisberger would net the team over $44 million in cap savings.  All this, while only leaving the team with $19 million in dead cap charges.  One thing is clear, the Pittsburgh Steelers have gone out of their way to leave themselves plenty of flexibility after the 2020 season.

The conclusion:

There’s definitely something fishy going on the way all these contracts are structured.  The fact that the contacts of the head coach, general manager, and the franchise quarterback are all set to expire within six months of each other Is the biggest clue. Not to mention the entire team is up at the end of 2021 except for Stephon Tuitt and the 2019 draft class.  Will the Steelers look very different in the 2022 season…..absolutely.  The question remains will it even take that long?  A bad season from Ben Roehtlisberger in 2020 could create a wave of changes on this team.  A complete franchise overhaul including the coach and general manager could be in the cards come seasons end.  By 2022, this team will be unrecognizable compared to what is on the field in September.