Alex Highsmith restructure was a big step toward Steelers trade for Brandon Aiyuk

The decision to restructure Alex Highsmith's contract points to a potential big move for Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers
Cincinnati Bengals v Pittsburgh Steelers / Justin K. Aller/GettyImages

With just over 24 hours to the start of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers have restructured the contract of edge defender Alex Highsmith. The talented pass rusher was scheduled to have a cap number of over $13.9 million for the upcoming season.

NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that this simple contract restructure will save Pittsburgh $7 million in cap space this year.

The Steelers already had over $11.1 million in salary cap space entering the NFL Draft, according to Over the Cap. This is more than enough money to sign their rookie class.

So why would Omar Khan make a move like this with the draft just one day away?

Steelers could be trading for Brandon Aiyuk

For months, the Pittsburgh Steelers have been involved in trade rumors surrounding 49ers star receiver, Brandon Aiyuk. The former first-round pick is coming off a career year and is seeking a lucrative contract extension.

These rumors were refuted by Aiyuk's agent and Pittsburgh's talking heads laughed off the rumors that they have been in trade talks with San Francisco.

But the decision to restructure the contract of Alex Highsmith makes the Brandon Aiyuk trade rumors more believable than ever.

In order to execute a trade for Aiyuk, the Steelers would need to have at least $14.125 million in salary cap space to absorb his cap number for the 2024 season. At just over $11 million, Pittsburgh didn't have the cap space to make this happen... until now.

With Highsmith's restructured, Omar Khan now has roughly $18 million to work with. This is more than enough cap space to trade for Aiyuk. If they do, we can assume that the Steelers have already been in discussions with Aiyuk's representation with approval from the 49ers. They aren't going to trade elite draft capital and pay a receiver excellent money on a one-year rental.

This decision would seem odd on the part of the 49ers who still have three years of control over Brandon Aiyuk, should they choose to exercise it. They can pick up his fifth-year option in 2025 and franchise tag him twice. This means that he could still be in San Francisco until 2027. This is more than enough time for a great team to attempt to capitalize on a Super Bowl window.

The Steelers, on the other hand, may not be close enough to truly contending to make a move with this much draft and financial investment at stake. If they do execute a trade for Aiyuk, it will not only cost them a high draft pick but they will also be forced to turn around and make him one of the highest-paid receivers in the NFL.

The decision to restructure the contract of Alex Highsmith could have been a preemptive measure that Omar Khan and the Pittsburgh Steelers had planned all along, but the timing is most peculiar. Keep your ears peeled during the 2024 NFL Draft, and don't be shocked to hear about a trade for Brandon Aiyuk coming.