Not surprisingly, it was reported on Monday that Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward recently had his contract restructured with it resulting in the team clearing a very much needed $7 million in 2021 salary cap space. Why not surprisingly? Because as I wrote last September after Heyward signed his new extension, the contract structure was set up perfectly for such a restructure to happen and especially due to the expected impact that the COVID pandemic would have on the league’s 2021 salary cap. In short, if you have read this site for any length of time and/or have listened to The Terrible Podcast, what was reported Monday morning concerning Heyward’s contract did not come as a surprise. So, with Heyward’s expected restructure now in the rearview mirror, where are the Steelers cap wise currently and what’s next for them in the next three weeks?
Cap wise, and based on the 2021 NFL salary cap number coming in at $185 million, which is still far from a guarantee, the Steelers are right around $7 million over the cap. Yes, that number includes the retirements of tight end Vance McDonald and center Maurkice Pouncey and also includes the nearly $5 million in unused 2020 salary cap space the Steelers will roll over to 2021. If you choose to go with a 2021 cap number of $180 million instead of $185 million, the Steelers are $12 million over the cap following Heyward’s contract restructure.
Quite obviously, the Steelers still have work that needs to be done just to get themselves salary cap compliant by March 17. So, what’s likely next for them?
For starters, and barring something totally unexpected, we should see a report very soon that fellow Steelers defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt has also done a full restructure, which like Heyward, is something I have predicted will happen this offseason for quite a while now. Assuming that restructure winds up being a full one, the Steelers will clear another $3,962,500 in 2021 salary cap space. And while that would obviously put the Steelers closer to being salary cap compliant, more work will be needed to meet that goal barring the cap number coming in at $188 million or greater.
So, could any other Steelers players not named Tuitt that are currently under contract past the 2021 season be restructured in the next three weeks? Absolutely, but with that said, there is not a lot of cap space to be had in doing so. For example, a full restructure of the contract of kicker Chris Boswell would clear the Steelers just $1,047,500 in 2021 salary cap space. Additionally, a full restructure done on the contract of fullback Derek Watt would create just $880,000 in 2021 salary cap space. Even so, combined those two restructures would free $1,927,500 in 2021 salary cap space and for a team that could certainly use that nearly $2 million, it’s not out of the question that they both get done in the next three weeks.
The big elephant in the room in the next three weeks is obviously quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and as all of you reading this should know by now, what happens with him and his contract will be big, big news. If Roethlisberger is cut or decides to retire, the Steelers will clear $18.34 million in 2021 salary cap space after top 51 roster displacement takes place. If, however, they fully extend him with voidable years with no new money and him not giving back any of the $19 million he’s currently owed in 2021, the Steelers will clear $14.34 million in cap space for the season.
Could the Steelers decide to extend the contracts of another player or two in the next three weeks to create even more 2021 salary cap space? Sure they could and leading the list of candidates for that would be cornerback Steven Nelson and guard David DeCastro, as I have indicated in previous posts on the Steelers cap situation. If not extended in the next three weeks, the potential of those two players being extended later in the offseason can’t be entirely ruled out. As far as potential cap savings goes when it comes to extensions for each, it all depends on the length and structure of those deals and thus it is hard to get into a tight speculation window.
Anything else in the next three weeks that could happen that would clear 2021 salary cap space by the start of the new league year on March 17? Well, there is always the chance we could see a contract termination or two, or possibly a straight pay cut. Inside linebacker Vince Williams and his $4 million base salary is the likeliest candidate when it comes to a contract termination or a pay cut.
What about Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt and the $10.089 million he is due in 2021? More than likely, Watt will sign a very lucrative contract extension later in the offseason. How that deal is structured, assuming it gets done, will determine if the Steelers will be able to recognize much, if any, salary cap relief for the 2021 season.
So, in summation, the Steelers will obviously get salary cap compliant in the next three weeks and quite honestly, they are now just a Tuitt restructure and Roethlisberger decision away from doing so. The biggest unknown right now is how far under the cap they plan on going in the next three weeks and that will be decided by their own free agency plans, which will most likely all revolve around their own unrestricted types they want to retain.