The Steelers will have a difficult off-season, yes. They will have to make some tough decisions and Steeler Nation will have to say goodbye to some players that they aren’t yet ready to say goodbye too, but that doesn’t mean the Steelers are facing the apocalypse as so many seem to assume.
According to Spotrac.com, the Steelers have 51 players currently signed to deals for the 2013 season including those players signed to future/reserves contracts. The total amount owed to those 51 players is $135.8 million. According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com the NFL salary cap number for 2013 will be $121 million.
That puts the Steelers at $14.8 million over the cap. Pittsburgh also has seven players that are exclusive rights free agents or restricted free agents.
Now Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette wrote: “The Steelers could lose every one of their free agents, and they might have to lose a few more veterans if they don’t agree to take less money in 2013, they are so far over the salary cap that they would not be able to fill a 53-man roster without doing all of that,” Bouchette said.
What he should of said was that the Steelers could lose all of their unrestricted free agents. Those seven players that are restricted will return to the Steelers in 2013 because the team will be able to sign them to cap friendly deals. Now assuming that those seven contracts will amount to around $8 million the Steelers are now $22.8 million over the cap.
To get under the cap the Steelers will have to restructure the contracts of Ben Roethlisberger, Lawrence Timmons, LaMarr Woodley, and perhaps Antonio Brown as well. Roethlisberger may also receive a contract extension this off-season to off-set salary and open up more cap space. Those moves would free up about $19 million and put the Steelers just $3.8 million over the cap. Cutting James Harrison, which is almost a guaranteed move this off-season unless he accepts a pay cut, would save another $5.5 million and the Steelers would be under the cap by $1.7 million.
That’s not much cap space so the team will be forced to cut other players. Those players could be Brett Keisel, Willie Colon, Ike Taylor, and Jerrico Cotchery. Now cutting Keisel, Taylor, or Harrison would cause an uproar in Steeler Nation, but the Steelers used to make these decisions all the time. When they cut Joey Porter in 2007 no one was happy, but it all worked out for the best.
If the only way to sign Lewis is to cut Taylor then that decision may have to be made. At some point the Steelers need to start focusing on bringing in quality youth and keeping the aging Taylor over the up and coming Lewis would be a mistake.
Lewis also may be the only important unrestricted free agent that the Steelers could lose this off-season. So when you hear that they may lose all of their free agents don’t get too worried. Here is a list of the Steelers 2013 unrestricted free agents:
Greg Warren – Warren has been a great long-snapper for the Steelers, but they can probably find a cheaper option this off-season.
Max Starks – Starks was arguably the Steelers best offensive lineman in 2012 and played in all 16 games. However, with Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert waiting in the wings the team will let Starks walk and play the youngsters in 2013.
Rashard Mendenhall – No one expects Mendenhall back in 2013 after his issues during the 2012 season on and off the field.
Mike Wallace – Wallace all but sealed his fate in Pittsburgh last off-season when he held out and failed to reach terms on a new deal with the team.
Will Allen – Allen played well as a back-up safety in 2012 when he was on the field, but he is going to be 31 and he is too expensive given the Steelers salary cap issues.
Plaxico Burress – Burress played in four games and made three catches. He didn’t look bad on the field, but he won’t be a big concern this off-season. If he is still looking for a team this summer the Steelers may take another look.
Leonard Pope – Pope didn’t do much in 2012 for the Steelers and failed to win the back-up tight end job over a seventh round draft pick. He is as good as gone.
Larry Foote – Foote could be back if he is willing to take the veteran minimum in 2013. Otherwise it may be time to see what Stevenson Sylvester or Sean Spence can do.
Ramon Foster – Foster may get a decent deal in free agency to start somewhere else. If another team offers him a good contract the Steelers will be unable to match it.
Doug Legursky – If Legursky can’t find a starting job elsewhere and is willing to take a very minimal contract he’ll be back otherwise he may be playing somewhere else next season.
Casey Hampton – Hampton still wants to play and he will still want to be paid. Another team will offer him more money and the Steelers will move forward with Steve McLendon.
Ryan Mundy – Mundy hasn’t done enough to gain the attention of other teams and if the Steelers still like him as a back-up safety he will be back on a one year deal.
Keenan Lewis – Lewis is the biggest name on this list and the most pressing off-season concern for the Steelers. They will do their best to retain him, but if another team offers him big money the Steelers will be forced to let him walk.
So as you can see the Steelers could lose all of their free agents, but it’s not as terrible as it sounds. Outside of potentially losing Keenan Lewis there aren’t many players on that list that will be terribly missed on the field in 2013.
The Steelers do have a tough off-season ahead of them and there will be some big decisions to make, but this is an organization that has always handled these situations well and I expect nothing less from them during the 2013 off-season.
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