4 salary cap decisions Steelers will have to make in 2024

Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minkah Fitzpatrick
Steelers, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minkah Fitzpatrick / Cooper Neill/GettyImages

After spending good money in free agency over the past two offseasons, the Pittsburgh Steelers suddenly find themselves in a bit of a financial bind. If the season ended today, this team would be over $16 million in the salary cap hole, and Omar Khan would have to do some finagling just to become cap-compliant.

Fortunately, there are several easy decisions the Steelers can make to clear up salary cap space. Cutting players like Allen Robinson, Chukwuma Okorafor, and Mitch Trubisky seem like no-brainers. But this is only half of the battle.

Pittsburgh not only needs to get out of the negatives, but they also need to clear up enough cap space to make free agent singing and fill roster holes. To do this, the Steelers will have to make four big salary cap decisions before free agency.

Restructuring Minkah Fitzpatrick's contract

Even with all of the injuries he sustained and the time he missed in 2023, you won't find many folks who think that Minkah Fitzpatrick isn't one of the best safeties in the game. Unfortunately, the value of the safety position has decreased in recent years as the quick passing game has emerged in the NFL.

To make matters worse, Fitzpatrick has a sticky contract situation. Because of the way his deal was structured when he signed his extension in 2022, the star safety had a few years of small cap hits followed by some massive salary cap numbers.

In 2024, Fitzpatrick is set to make over $21.5 million, and this number progressively increases each year through 2026. Eating up nearly 9 percent of the team's total salary cap is not something the Steelers can allow to happen. Fitzpatrick's contract must be restructured in an effort to increase the team's salary cap space this offseason.

Cameron Heyward could receive a contract extension

The Pittsburgh Steelers are very much in the same boat when it comes to Cameron Heyward's contract situation. The four-year, $65.6 million extension he signed in 2020 was extremely reasonable -- even at the time. However, the team backloaded his deal. Now they are feeling the effects of doing so.

Entering the final year of his deal, Heyward has a significant cap number of over $22.2 million. This accounts for nearly 10 percent of the team's total salary cap. This figure is simply too high for a soon-to-be 35-year-old defensive lineman who missed half of the 2023 season with a groin injury.

Heyward has made it clear that he's not taking a pay cut and that he wants to continue playing. Because this organization is notoriously loyal to their best players in the final stages of their career, we can expect Pittsburgh to give a contract extension to Heyward this offseason. By doing so, it would allow the Steelers to move money back and significantly lower Heyward's cap number in 2024.

Steelers must do something with T.J. Watt's cap number

T.J. Watt is the highest-paid player on the Steelers for a reason, and you won't find many fans complaining about this. Unfortunately, as they often do, Pittsburgh backloaded his contract when he signed his extension in 2021 to become the highest-paid defender in the NFL.

Now the Steelers are looking at a cap number of over $30.4 million for Watt in both 2024 and the final year of his deal in 2025. This means that Pittsburgh essentially has two options: they could restructure Watt's deal by converting some of his money into a singing bonus, or they can give him a contract extension.

The Steelers rarely extend players unless they are entering the final year of their contract. However, this team has already made an exception for T.J. Watt in the past. Knowing that they have a future Hall of Famer on their hands, it's possible that Pittsburgh could give him an early extension. This will help them in the present, but his new-money average is going to be through the roof -- likely leapfrogging Nick Bosa's $34 million yearly average.

Larry Ogunjobi isn't worth his contract

I think it's fair to say that the Pittsburgh Steelers made a questionable financial decision when they signed Larry Ogunjobi to a contract extension during the 2023 offseason. This came after we already witnessed one year of mediocre play from the veteran defensive tackle in Pittsburgh.

Out of fear of not being able to find a quality defensive lineman to pair with Heyward, the Steelers handed Ogunjobi a three-year, $28.75 million deal last offseason when defensive tackles were flying off the shelf to the highest bidders. Now Pittsburgh is stuck with a rather average starter who is set to make nearly $13.3 million in 2024. The question is: what can they do about it?

In my opinion, Ogunjobi certainly isn't a talented or important enough player to tack on voidable years to his contract in an effort to move his money around. Quite frankly, they might be best off trying to find a trade partner who can take on his manageable $5 million base salary. If that doesn't work, I would consider cutting him outright.


The Steelers probably won't go for this, however, as they are trying to keep their roster as competitive as possible during this window. Ogunjobi's contract could be restructured as Pittsburgh could push money into the final year of his deal in 2025. This would lower his cap hit for 2024, but it means that he would almost assuredly be cut next offseason.

All contract and salary cap numbers courtesy of Over the Cap.