Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Where the Steelers go from here
The No. 1 priority for the Steelers heading into this offseason is to re-sign linebacker Jason Worilds.
After allowing wide receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Keenan Lewis to leave as free agents following the 2012 season because they couldn’t afford to sign them to new deals, the Steelers aren’t about to let another good young talent get away.
The problem is that the Steelers are currently projected to be just under $13 million over the 2014 estimated salary cap, including dead money from players already released and workout bonuses.
The team will also need an additional $5.8 million to sign their draft picks and some additional money for the practice squad, emergencies, etc. By the time all is said and done, they’ll need between $18 and $20 million in cap space.
The first order of business will be clearing the cap space needed to be compliant by March 11, when the new fiscal year begins.
Releasing offensive tackle Levi Brown will account for $6.25 million of that and is an easy fix. Brown never played a down for the Steelers after being acquired via a trade for a conditional pick with Arizona. Since Brown met none of the conditions of the trade, no pick will be exchanged.
Veteran linebacker Larry Foote, who spent most of 2013 on injured reserve, could also be released at a savings of $1.17 million.
So where will the rest of the money come from?
An extension to Roethlisberger could net the team $3 to $4 million in cap savings for 2014 and seems to be a no-brainer. And simple restructures in the deals of Brown and linebacker Lawrence Timmons could create an additional $8 million in cap space.
The team could also approach cornerback Ike Taylor and inquire about the possibility of taking a paycut on the $7 million salary he is scheduled to earn in 2014. But, as happened in 2013 with James Harrison, the team must also be prepared to release Taylor if he isn’t agreeable to taking a cut.
Placing the franchise tag on Worilds would cost $10.9 million and would keep the linebacker from bolting in free agency but might be too high a cost for the Steelers to afford. But they might not have a choice at this point and would have to release another veteran outright to use the tag and hope they can work out a new deal with Worilds to lower that total.
One of the biggest issues facing the Steelers is what to do with outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
Woodley has missed time with injuries in each of the past three seasons and is scheduled to make $13.5 million. If the Steelers re-sign Worilds as expected, they will release Woodley.
But they likely won’t be able to make that move until after June 1, at which time they can free up $8 million with the other $5.3 million being carried over to 2015. Releasing Woodley prior to June 1 means the Steelers would take a $14 million hit against their cap in 2014.
But the Steelers will have to carry Woodley’s $13.5 million salary against their cap until his June 1 release.
The Steelers will also need to figure out ways to re-sign some of their own free agents.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will want more than a minimum deal, as will safety Ryan Clark. Neither will likely return.
But the Steelers might be able to work out minimum deals with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who led the team with 10 touchdown catches, running back Jonathan Dwyer, long snapper Greg Warren, defensive lineman Al Woods and offensive lineman Guy Whimper.
Center Fernando Velasco would have required a decent contract offer given his play throughout the season, but after suffering an Achilles tendon injury late in the year, could be re-signed for a minimum deal prior to training camp. If Velasco gets another offer or the team feels he’s not progressing with his rehab well enough,
Cody Wallace could be re-signed as well.
With Clark gone, the Steelers will also look to add a veteran at free safety as well. Will Allen could fill that role if he is re-signed, though cornerback William Gay could also be moved to that spot.
Steelers unrestricted free agents (and their chances of re-signing)
S Will Allen (60-40)
WR Plaxico Burress (10-90)
S Ryan Clark (10-90)
WR Jerricho Cotchery (70-30)
RB Jonathan Dwyer (60-40)
DE Ziggy Hood (60-40)
TE David Johnson (50-50)
RB Felix Jones (25-75)
DE Brett Keisel (60-40)
P Mat McBriar (30-70)
OL Eric Olsen (20-80)
TE Michael Palmer (50-50)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (20-80)
RB LaRod Stephens-Howling (50-50)
LB Stevenson Sylvester (50-50)
C Cody Wallace (50-50)
LS Greg Warren (40-60)
LB Jamaal Westerman (30-70)
OL Guy Whimper (60-40)
DT Al Woods (70-30)
LB Jason Worilds (80-20)
OL Fernando Velasco (80-20)