The salary cap has been an ongoing issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers over the last few years, as they have struggled to balance all of the contracts they have rewarded to players they have drafted over the last decade – a decade that saw them win two Super Bowls and get to another. Paying everyone who helps you win is always a struggle for successful teams and Steelers are not immune to this.
The Steelers have always been known as an extremely loyal organization and that is what has put them into this situation. Their loyalty to players they draft and develop in their system has seen them give long-term deals to nearly every veteran on their defense. Now as their defense ages, they are struggling with the decisions of whom to keep around and who to let go. Veterans Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Ryan Clark are all free agents this off season. While all three have been productive in the past, 2013 was not a particularly good season for any of them. Decisions also need to be made on what to do with Lamar Woodley and Ike Taylor. Ike Taylor is expected to have his contract restructured, as the Steelers need to hold onto him because he is still considered to be the best corner on their roster. Lamar Woodley can be productive while on the field but has been injured for the majority of the last two seasons, which means he is likely to be released next week when the 2014 season formally begins. Jason Worilds signing his transition tag this week does not help Woodley’s case for staying with the Steelers.
The Steelers have made their first steps toward getting under this year’s cap by restructuring the deals of safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller. Polamalu has been a stalwart of the Pittsburgh defense since being drafted by the team in the first round in 2003. He is considered far too important for the franchise to let him get away, which is why he was given a three-year extension today that makes his salary cap number much more manageable. Miller has been a major part of the offense since he was taken in the first round by the Steelers and is one of Big Ben’s favorite targets. Another decision still looming is whether or not to extend receiver Emanuel Sanders. Although Sanders is coming off his best statistical season yet, there is disagreement in the organization as to whether he can become a go-to receiver considering his slender frame and inconsistency.
The Steelers released three players today in a move that will help them to get under the cap. Linebacker Larry Foote, cornerback Curtis Brown, and offensive lineman Levi Brown were the three players released today in moves that were all expected to come. Foote was the only one of the three who started in 2013, although Curtis Brown did play a good amount and made some good contributions to the team. Levi Brown was a midseason acquisition from the Arizona Cardinals who did not make it on the field in 2013.
Tough decisions are still to come for the Steelers but they have made the first moves to give themselves flexibility with the cap. More decisions are still looming on the players they want to resign and free agents they might need to bring in to bolster their roster. The Steelers are one of the most consistently successful teams in the NFL and when faced with similar struggles with the salary cap over the past few years, the organization has always worked it out. But, this year, figuring out a way to get under the salary cap without depleting their roster will be a major deciding factor as to whether they can get back to the playoffs.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius