2016 Cap Outlook: Pittsburgh Steelers

Through the 2015 NFL season, Pro Football Rumors will be looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, gauging the salary cap situation for each of the league’s 32 teams. The cap for 2016 hasn’t been set yet, but we can still assess the salary commitments made by a club and determine whether or not that club will be in good financial shape going forward.

In addition to evaluating each team’s overall cap situation, we’ll focus in on a few key players who may be candidates to be extended, restructured, or released by their current teams. These lists aren’t comprehensive, and depending on a player’s 2015 performance and health, he could drop off one of these lists – or be added to one – as the season goes on. For now though, these are some players to watch.

Using data from Over The Cap, we’re making our way through NFL teams in order of total salary commitments for 2016. Today’s team is the Steelers, who currently have the fifth-highest total for their ’16 cap.

Let’s dive in….

Top 10 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Ben Roethlisberger, QB: $23,950,000
  2. Lawrence Timmons, LB: $15,131,250
  3. Antonio Brown, WR: $12,370,833
  4. Maurkice Pouncey, C: $10,551,000
  5. Cameron Heyward, DE: $10,400,000
  6. David DeCastro, G: $8,070,000
  7. Heath Miller, TE: $7,181,668
  8. Mike Mitchell, S: $6,763,750
  9. Marcus Gilbert, RT: $6,461,000
  10. Cortez Allen, CB: $5,750,000
    Current 2016 cap number for top 51 players: $144,927,485

With a new contract extension in hand, Roethlisberger will continue to be the Steelers’ highest-paid player – with the club’s largest cap number – going forward. But he’s hardly the only veteran player who has a substantial cap hit in 2016. Timmons’ figure is perhaps the most interesting, since it’s extremely rare to see a cap charge get that high for any inside linebacker. He’s followed by three other players with eight-digit cap numbers, two of whom signed new contract extensions within the last year and a half.

Candidates for extension:

  • Antonio Brown, WR
  • David DeCastro, G

Brown had hoped to sign a new contract this past offseason, but ultimately settled for a reworking of his deal that saw some money moved from 2016 to 2015. It’s not a surprise that the Steelers were unwilling to do anything more drastic, since the pact runs through the 2017 season, and extending it so early would set an unwanted precedent. However, the two sides could revisit talks this coming offseason.

Brown’s current contract calls for him to make a combined $15MM in base salary in 2016 and 2017, which is far below the salaries that recently-signed wideouts like Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, and T.Y. Hilton are getting. So Brown should be in line for a nice raise. Still, depending on how the Steelers structure an offer, an extension could significantly reduce Brown’s 2016 cap number from its current $12.37MM figure.

As for DeCastro, he has a fifth-year option keeping him under contract with Pittsburgh for the 2016 season. DeCastro is a steady, reliable presence in the middle of the Steelers’ offensive line, but the team will likely want to bring down his cap charge for next year a little, since it currently exceeds $8MM. If DeCastro were to sign a long-term extension, the annual average would likely be a little less than that, and the new deal could be backloaded, reducing his impact on the 2016 cap.

Candidates for restructure:

  • Marcus Gilbert, RT
  • Cameron Heyward, DE
  • Mike Mitchell, S
  • Maurkice Pouncey, C
  • Ben Roethlisberger, QB

Most of the players listed here have contracts with similar structures — Gilbert, Heyward, Mitchell, and Pouncey will all see their cap hits increase significantly in 2016 and remain fairly high in future seasons, so if the Steelers choose to restructure any of those deals, they could be creating problems down the road. I wouldn’t expect the club to want – or need – to restructure all four players, but one or two of them could be addressed if cap room start getting tight.

Heyward and Pouncey could be the top candidates for restructures, for a couple of reasons. For one, their cap charges are a few million dollars larger than Gilbert’s or Mitchell’s, so restructuring those deals will make a bigger impact. Additionally, their contracts through 2019 or 2020, meaning a signing bonus can be spread across several seasons without affecting a single year too negatively.

Roethlisberger’s contract may be the most logical one for a restructure though — his $23.95MM cap hit for 2016 is higher than his cap numbers in 2017, 2018, or 2019, so moving some money to those later years isn’t quite so risky, and it could create massive flexibility in the short term, if necessary.

Candidates for pay cut or release:

It’s hard to imagine the Steelers releasing either Miller or Timmons, who have been with the franchise since 2005 and 2007, respectively. Nonetheless, the team will have to take a hard look at both players’ contracts, which expire at the end of the 2016 season.

Miller hasn’t been quite as productive this year as he has been in some recent seasons, though his slightly reduced numbers could be a result of the quarterback carousel that began when Roethlisberger was injured. Timmons, meanwhile, battled a toe injury during the preseason, and hasn’t been as effective in the middle of the defense as he has been in years past. Pittsburgh could create $4MM in cap savings by cutting Miller, and nearly $9MM by cutting Timmons, though pay cuts or extensions are probably more likely.

Allen and Jones, on the other hand, look like obvious release candidates, though Jones’ deal is much easier to shed than Allen’s, which will still include $4MM+ in dead money in 2016. Given how little the Steelers have gotten out of the cornerback since he signed that extension with the club, it’s hard to see how they can keep him at a $4MM base salary though, so that deal will need to be addressed in some form. For his part, Jones would have to have a huge second half in 2015 to return on his current $3MM salary for 2016.

Moats’ case falls somewhere in the middle. His $2.5MM base salary for next season isn’t exorbitant, and he has a pair of sacks for the Steelers this year. But he’s not exactly irreplaceable, and if Pittsburgh plans to address the outside linebacker position in the draft, there will be players that could replicate Moats’ production at a lesser cost. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the veteran linebacker return on his current contract, but the Steelers should have to at least consider making a move.

Contract information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.

View Comments (2)