The main focus in this edition of “Fixing the Steelers Part two” will be on the current roster. More importantly, how to get this roster under the salary cap for 2021. The most recent rumors from Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk is that the cap could land at $180 million. https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2021/01/19/salary-cap-could-be-in-the-range-of-180-million/
This would be disaster for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The team already has $202 million committed in 2021, and that is only for only 34 players. Meaning the Steelers will be $22 million over the cap with seventeen players needed to fill out the roster. We warned Steelers fans months ago about this impending situation. Steelers 2021 salary cap is a disaster
Despite this recent report, we are still going to base our numbers on the cap staying flat at $198 million. Recent moves by teams indicate to us this is what is being expected around the league. Even at $198, this off-season will require some creative cap massaging by the Steelers. We pretty much know how Kevin Colbert and company will try to attack this problem. They will once again extend Ben Roethlisberger’s contract, along with a few others in hopes of one more run at the Super Bowl.
We are not in favor of this as a way to deal with this situation. Extending Roethlisberger only puts the Steelers in an even worse situation a year or two later. Here is the direction we would go:
Ben Roethlisberger -$19 million
Joe Haden -$13 million
Maurkice Pouncey – $8 million
Eric Ebron -$6 million
Vance McDonald -$5 million
Vince Williams -$4 million
Total savings – $55 million
The quickest, and easiest way to cut a big chunk of money off the salary cap is to cut Ben Roethlisberger. Obviously this leaves a rather large hole in the roster which we will deal with in part three of this series. If the Steelers are honest with themselves, they will come to the realization that they have little to no chance of winning a Super Bowl in 2021. With that being the case, what would the point be of bringing Roethlisberger back for another season? Or even worse, extending him so his salary cap charge will be even larger in a year or two. It is time for this franchise to rebuild, and that starts with moving on from Ben Roethlisberger.
Maurkice Pouncey has long maintained he will only stay around as long as Roethlisberger. There have already been rumors that the Steelers center is ready to retire. Either way we would not go into 2021 with Pouncey as the starting center. His skills have eroded to the point where its time to go in a different direction.
Cutting Joe Haden and Vince Williams will certainly sting the Steelers fan base. The reality however is both these veterans cost too much against the cap versus what they provide on the field. Haden has a bloated cap hit of almost $16 million. That is far too expensive for a corner who is significantly past his prime. We go into this in a little more detail here: Has Joe Haden played his last game for the Steelers?
Everyone loves Vince Williams, and so do we. Unfortunately his cap hit is too large, and there is a younger and cheaper replacement waiting in the wings in Robert Spillane. As far as the tight ends go, the Steelers need to start from scratch at this position. Neither tight end gave the team much of anything. The $16.5 million combined cap hits of Eric Ebron and Vance McDonald are something this team can easily do without.
Bud Dupree – 1 year, $10 million
Matt Feiler – 2 year, $6 milllion ($3 million cap hit in 2021)
Zach Banner – 1 year $850 thousand
Ju Ju Smith Schuster – 3 year, $51 million ($12 million cap hit in 2021)
Cam Sutton – 3 year, $11 million ($3.1 million cap hit in 2021)
Total cap hit for 2021: $28.95 million
Now for some good news. Starting with the smaller contracts, Matt Feiler will be a key backup for the offensive line going forward. At his price, he is a must have in our opinion. The same goes for Zach Banner. You can never have enough depth along the offensive line. Cam Sutton replaces Mike Hilton as the team’s slot corner. We’d love to have Hilton back, but unfortunately his tremendous play in 2021 makes him far too expensive.
Next we have outside linebacker Bud Dupree. The Steelers benefit from Dupree’s misfortune here as he was well on his way to a twenty plus million per season deal before his injury. Now a one year deal to prove he is back and fully healthy makes all the sense in the world for Dupree. What better place to do that than in the familiar Steelers 3/4 defense.
Ju Ju Smith Schuster is a must have for the Steelers. He sacrificed a good part of his game in 2021 to help the Steelers short passing game. A new quarterback could really bring out all the talents of Smith-Schuster. We may look back and think $17 million per season was quite a bargain.
Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt – $11 million savings in 2021
Cap situation after all moves: $33 million in cap space remaining
Without boring you to death with all the details of contract restructures, the only two deals worthwhile for the Steelers to look at are Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward. The maximum savings from those two contacts will be approximately $11 million. We are not huge fans of restructuring Cam Heyward’s deal given his age and the position he plays. This could come back to bite us in the future, but for now the cap relief is much needed.
The key piece to the entire Steelers off-season is what they do with Ben Roethlisberger and his contract. His $41 million dollar cap hit for 2021 is the single biggest obstacle this team must overcome. We have little doubt the Steelers will do everything they can to bring him back, but that is not the way we would go about it. The $19 million in cap savings by cutting Roethlisberger far outweighs the ceiling of what he could do on the field in 2021.
In our scenario the team still has a good deal of money leftover for free agency. After all this shakes out it leaves the team with roughly $33 million to play with. Keep in mind there is a draft, undrafted fee agents, and other bonuses still to pay for. Factoring in all that, this team would still have room to sign a few decent free agents.
NOTE: Stay tuned for Fixing the Steelers: Step Three where we talk about trades, free agency, and who the Steelers quarterback will be in 2021.