So much for best laid plans…
Going into this off-season, the Pittsburgh Steelers were projected to be catastrophic twenty some odd million over the cap. First, they got some great news when the new cap number came in $10 million higher than last season. They still had some work to do after linebacker Jason Worilds signed his one year transition offer but they were within striking distance. It looked like only one major cut would be needed to get within salary cap compliance by next Tuesday’s deadline.
Well, the Steelers are under the cap with five days to spare. More importantly, they didn’t have to cut a single significant player in order to achieve it.
As I wrote yesterday, Troy Polamalu was one of the veterans rumored to be on the chopping block. I also mentioned that of all the overpaid vets on this team, Troy was the one who actually earned his money last season. 2013 saw a resurgence from the one time Defensive Player of the Year as he not only played every game but ending up leading the team in splash plays with 2 interceptions and 5 forced fumbles. If not for the team’s inept run defense forcing him to play in the box, who knows what kind of havoc he could’ve wreaked down the stretch.
Heath Miller wasn’t in danger but there was news of a contract restructuring to help reduce his $7 million cap hit. Heath came back a little soon last year and wasn’t himself early on but started looking more and more like his old self towards the end of the year. What’s more, the huge improvement in the run game and pass protection over the last eight games can partly be attributed to having one of the game’s best blockers back in the line-up. With the torn ACL/PCL over a year behind him, we should expect the old dependable Heath to show up in Latrobe in August.
Both Heath and Troy signed contract extensions that carry them through 2016. By adding years and restructuring their deals, the team lopped close to $8 million off this year’s cap. Amazingly, they agreed to add those two years at no additional cost to the Steelers. More than anything, this shows both men have no interest in playing anywhere else and intend to retire wearing the Black and Gold.
With that bit of business behind them, the Steelers chopped another $8 million through three unsurprising cuts. First was LT Levi Brown, who I’m still convinced was Bruce Arians‘ practical joke on all of us. Brown was brought in to help a line that was in utter disarray but got hurt in pregame warm-ups before playing a single snap. That was the easiest $6.5 million we’ve ever saved.
The remaining money comes from cutting Larry Foote and Curtis Brown. Brown is yet another Kevin Colbert cornerback bust, a third rounder who couldn’t start, couldn’t play nickel, and wasn’t even a good special teamer. Foote is a 12 year veteran currently in his second stint with the Steelers after a one year sabbatical to Detroit. He was a solid starter at ILB on the team’s last two Super Bowl-winning squads. Foote was lost for the year after tearing his bicep in the first game of season, forcing rookie Vince Williams into the starting line-up. Williams wasn’t great – he struggled mightily against the run – but he showed enough promise that Dick LeBeau and company evidently feel comfortable making him their starter.
While nobody is exactly sure what the Steelers cap number is, most seem to agree the $15 million or so they freed up gets them within cap compliance. Of course, they need to be more than a hair under the threshold in order to start signing some free agents. As I briefly mentioned yesterday, at the bare minimum we need to add at least one dependable WR, a back-up RB, and decide what they’re going to do at DE with both Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood on the market. So if I’m LaMarr Woodley or Ike Taylor, I’d keep my phone charged and wouldn’t sleep soundly quite yet.