There’s no way to sugar coat this, the Steelers 2021 salary cap is a disaster.  Pittsburgh already has roughly $202 million committed to only 34 players next season.   In a year where the cap could fall to $175 million, the Steelers have a real problem. number does not include the several key free agents the team could stand to lose.

Here is the complete list of Steelers free agents heading into the 2021 season:

Ju Ju Smith Schuster

Bud Dupree

James Conner

Alejandro Villanueva

Matt Feiler

Mike Hilton

Cam Sutton

Tyson Alualu

Avery Williamson

Zach Banner

Vance McDonald  (Steelers have a team option)

Sean Davis

Chris Wormley

Jordan Dangerfield


Nobody knows for sure what the actual salary cap ceiling will be in 2021 at this point.  We have seen estimates as low as $175 million, and as high as possibly $190 million.  Either way, Pittsburgh will be significantly over any cap number for next season.   Meaning the Steelers will have to make additional cuts, and or contract restructures just to get below the salary cap threshold.

What 2021 might look like:

Most, if not all the team’s free agents will likely leave after this season.  Kevin Colbert will have to start the extension/restructure process on key veterans almost immediately.  The big three of Ben Roethlisberger, Stephon Tuitt, and Cam Heyward are the best bang for his buck.  Colbert should be able to get slightly under the cap by reworking all three of these contracts.  What about the rest of the roster?  We break down by offense and defense here….




Ju Ju Smith-Schuster is the name everyone will want to know about on offense.  The Steelers have the option of using the franchise tag on him.  That would cost the team in the neighborhood of $16 million in cap space they do not have.  To accommodate this move, the team would surely have to cut both Joe Haden and Vince Williams.

Left tackle becomes the next obstacle on the roster.  There have been whispers that Alejandro Villanueva may retire when the year ends.  If he doesn’t, there’s no doubt he will be a hot commodity as a free agent.  We are talking about a left tackle who is yet to give up a sack after ten games in 2020.  Villanueva would easily command $10 million per season, pricing himself out of Pittsburgh.  

Left tackle will undoubtedly be the top priority for Kevin Colbert in the draft.  The problem there of course is the Steelers will almost certainly be picking at the end of the first round.   Having the fourth or fifth best rookie tackle defending Ben Roehtlisberger’s blindside isn’t exactly ideal, but it will be reality for 2020.  The team could resign Zach Banner on the cheap as competition at the position.

The other major name on offense is James Conner.   This one’s easy folks, 2020 will be the last season in Pittsburgh for the Steelers running back.  The team is in no position to pay a running back any kind of money.  Especially with capable backups like Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland ready to take his place.


There is simply no way the Steelers will find a way to keep Bud Dupree, he’s gone.  Bud is certain to get offers north of $20 million per season on the open market.  We argued signing him over extending Cam Heyward earlier this year, but that ship has sailed.  Bud Dupree vs Cam Heyward: The Steelers chose the wrong player to resign

As we mentioned earlier, both Joe Haden ($13 million cap savings) and Vince Williams ($4 million cap savings) are very likely to be cap casualties during the off-season.  This means that players like Robert Spillane,  Justin Layne, and Alex Highsmith will take on major roles in the defense in 2021.  No way around it, this  is a significant downgrade for the defense.

Slot corner also becomes a problem after the season.  Both Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton will become free agents after the season.  The hope was that at least one of these players could be had on the cheap.  That scenario is becoming less and less likely with both players having outstanding seasons.  Expect the Steelers to use major draft capital on corners during the 2021 NFL draft.

The Verdict:

The Covid 19 virus has put the Steelers into quite a bind in terms of the salary cap.  They, like most teams, were counting on the cap going up in 2021 as it has almost every year.  With no ticket sales or stadium concessions, many fear the number could go as low as $175 million next season.  A shrinking cap number combined with Ben Roethlisberger’s bloated $41 million cap hit is a perfect storm for the Steelers 2021 salary cap disaster.  Steelers fans need to prepare themselves for a very different football team next season.