The Steelers David DeCastro and Antonio Brown, like Le’Veon Bell before them, made some too-early cap drama so it seems as good a time as any to set some expectations for 2017’s cap and free agents.
Are the Steelers ever not going to be under a cap crunch? It seems like it’s been a decade of scrambling to deal with money issues. Unfortunately, that’s hard to say. It’s slightly easier to look just a year ahead though and consider what the Steelers will be up against.
Steelers fans are certainly used to having to deal with cap mess. What Steelers fans are not used to however is dealing with it a year ahead of time. The Steelers are pretty good at handling the cap issues as they arise, if not actually fixing them, but this offseason we’ve been reminded of a number of difficulties the Steelers will be facing.
Le’Veon Bell famously rapped that he believes he is worth 15 million dollars per year. Well, the circumstances may have changed slightly given the recent suspension issue. Bell is going to have to lower that figure but if the Steelers plan to keep him, he will require a substantial bit of money.
Antonio Brown has also referenced money. According to Tyler Dragon of NFL.com Brown recently said after practice, “You have to take care of your guys. If a guy under performs, you get rid of him. If a guy over performs, you take care of him. I’m confident in the Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers to get something done. Right now, I’m concentrating on the season and working on my game, trying to get better.”
I have no doubt Brown will handle this with class, as will the Steelers. But that’s not exactly my concern as much as keeping him in the black and gold. The issue is not the Steelers refusing to “take care of their guys,” but not being able to. They want to buy their kids all the presents they ask for, but can they afford it?
As if that’s not enough David DeCastro has jumped in the money buzz too. According to John Perrotto of Todayspigskin.com, DeCastro said, “I don’t know how that really works. Really, I’m just trying to play football and let the agent deal with that. I’ve got one year left. I know that for sure. Just prepared to deal with that. That’s all I can control. It’s a business. That’s the way it is. Both sides have to play their little game. How it works out, we’ll see. I’m just here to play ball.”
He went on to say, “It would be nice to stay here. At the end of the day, if I have to play the season, I’ll take out an insurance policy and go from there. I’m not going to lie and say I don’t think about it, but at the same time it’s like you don’t want to let that get ahead of you. I have one year left for sure. I want to make that it’s the best year I can.”
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…What? It seems like David DeCastro has suddenly turned into two people. One who isn’t worried about it and is just trying to play football and the other who wants an “insurance policy” (presumably talking to other teams?) and makes passive aggressive shots about his lack of a contract. Let’s hope the two DeCastros don’t require two contracts.
Regardless, that’s 3 All-Pro players saying give me money. All-Pro players do not come cheap. Starting to feel the cap crunch yet? Well that’s not all.
Now according to sites like Spotrac.com and Overthecap.com, the Steelers can expect to have 45 to 50 million dollars, give or take a few, when next year’s offseason kicks off. That seems like a large amount, much more than the Steelers are used to, but there’s a reason for that, because several Steelers with big contracts will be hitting the end of their contract.
There’s ILB Lawrence Timmons who is currently making 15 million. G David DeCastro, who we mentioned, is making 8 million. Then OLB Jarvis Jones and and RB DeAngelo Williams make near 3 million each. WR Markus Wheaton and OLB James Harrison are making about 2 million. G Cody Wallace and RB Le’Veon Bell are making a little north of a million each.
Then there’s QB Bruce Gradkowski, QB Landry Jones, ILB Vince Williams, LS Greg Warren, ILB Steven Johnson, CB Ross Cockrell, G Chris Hubbard, DT Ricardo Mathews, FB David Johnson, RB Fitzgerald Toussaint, OLB Anthony Chickillo, K Chris Boswell, FB Roosevelt Nix, and CB Doran Grant.
Throw in WR Antonio Brown wanting/deserving more money, picking up ILB Ryan Shazier’s fifth year option, and being as proactive as possible with DE Stephon Tuitt, and possibly WR Martavis Bryant too, and suddenly we’re right back in the cap crunch. Oh ya, and the Steelers need cap room for the entire 2017 draft class.
Obviously priority is going to go to young and talented. Bell, Brown, and DeCastro will likely be gone after hard by the Steelers. If any does not remain it is most likely DeCastro. They’ll absolutely “take care of” Brown. The Steelers will likley try to keep Roosevelt Nix and Chris Boswell too. It’s hard to find a player like Nix and the Steelers don’t want to relive that nightmare of finding a new kicker.
Besides the names addressed, the other potential cap casualties are DeAngelo Williams and Jarvis Jones. Also Lawrence Timmons will be difficult to keep around. Familiar faces like David Johnson and James Harrison are almost certainly gone, but could be saved by their cheap cost.
It’s tempting to say keep the big names and sort the rest out later, but you might notice among that list is all the back up QBs and all the backup RBs, including FBs. The Steelers learned in 2014 you can’t just have one RB. And the Steelers learned last year you can’t just sign a QB who doesn’t know your system and expect him to step in.
There are also a significant number of linebackers on that list and some quality backup offensive linemen. Both of those the Steelers have learned the value of in recent years as well. And if you drop Timmons you have to keep Williams. A decision to keep or drop one of these players has implications for many others. It’s free agent Jenga.
So that’s that. The Steelers are going to be in another tough spot when the dust settles from the 2016 season. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are going to have to navigate this mess. But if you’re looking for something concrete then here’s something for you. Lawrence Timmons, DeAngelo Williams, and James Harrison will be playing their last season in Pittsburgh. Make it count.