Steelers forced to eat millions in dead money after more failed signings

Pittsburgh was able to free up cap space by releasing Mitch Trubisky and Chukwuma Okorafor, but bad contract extensions forced them to eat dead money in 2024.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts
Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

From the moment the 2023 season ended, we knew there were going to be big roster changes for the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 2024 offseason. While Mike Tomlin's team had the highest percentage of total snaps played still under contract for the upcoming season, we understood that Pittsburgh couldn't move forward with many of the players they have on the team.

The first wave of Steelers roster moves came almost exactly a month before the start of free agency. On the evening of February 12th, the team announced a flood of transactions in an effort to both clear salary cap space and move on from players who were no longer part of the plan for 2024.

The Steelers have officially released QB Mitch Trubisky, OT Chukwuma Okorafor, and P Pressley Harvin III. We have predicted for months that Pittsburgh would not be able to justify paying the lofty cap numbers of players like Trubisky and Okorafor in 2024. Harvin's deal was very cheap, but his abysmal punting performance in 2023 led to his release.

Trubisky and Okorafor both struggled mightily in 2023 as well. Okorafor failed to take a step forward this season, and he was benched in the first half of the year for disciplinary reasons. Trubisky, on the other hand, didn't start until the second half of the season after Kenny Pickett went down with an ankle injury, but the veteran quarterback completely botched his opportunity and was soon demoted to third-string quarterback.

While I was quietly optimistic that the Steelers could flip Okorafor for a late-round conditional pick in a trade (he's still just 26 years old with four years of starting experience), I was not surprised to see the team wash their hands of these three players. However, what's frustrating is that the Steelers will be forced to eat dead money that will count against their cap space this year.

Steelers will eat dead money from bad contracts

The Pittsburgh Steelers are notorious for being loyal to a fault when it comes to paying their players. In 2022, former GM Kevin Colbert and the front office handed Chukwuma Okorafor a lofty three-year, $29.25 million contract extension. I was against this from the beginning and last year I wrote about Okorafor having one of the worst contracts on the Steelers roster.

The Steelers clearly overvalued their young OT based on his starting experience or the fact that they spent a third-round pick on him in the 2018 NFL Draft. Either way, there was nothing about Okorafor's play to suggest that he should be earning roughly $10 million per season, and all along, he really needed to be an NFL swing tackle.

They did something similar for Mitch Trubisky. Despite seeing very little from Trubisky when he entered the field in 2022, the Steelers gave him a sizeable two-year, $11.25 million extension during the 2023 offseason with nearly $7 million in guaranteed money.

The decision to cut Okorafor and Trubisky instantly saves the Steelers roughly $11.7 million towards the cap in 2024. This is a step in the right direction toward getting out of a $16 million cap hole. Unfortunately, Pittsburgh will eat a significant $7.7 million in dead money in 2024. This is a figure that counts against the team's total cap space. In other words, this is $7.7 million they can no longer use.

The loss of $7.7 million isn't going to make or break their chances in 2024, but it's frustrating to know that this could have been avoided if they didn't hand out a pair of bad contracts to Mitch Trubisky and Chukwuma Okorafor over the past two offseasons.

The Steelers need to understand that their replacement-level players aren't worth nearly as much as they have been paying them. Let's hope that new front office heads Omar Khan and Andy Weidl will learn from this in the future and not pay good money to keep below-average players around.

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