Road to Cap Zero

It will be a painful road to the start of the fiscal new year for the Steelers, but not a difficult one, according to SCI publisher Jim Wexell.

A dozen players participated in all three Super Bowls in which the Steelers have played this century.

Chris Hoke was the first to go. He retired two weeks ago. Bryant McFadden was cut yesterday.

So the list is down to 10, and counting.

At an estimated $25 million over the salary cap, the Steelers need a purge by the start of the new fiscal year, March 13, when the top 51 contracts have to be under the cap.

A restructuring of LaMarr Woodley's contract on Monday saved an estimated $6.5 million. A restructuring of the contracts of Lawrence Timmons, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu can save at least another $7 million, and that, according to capologist Ian Whetstone, is a conservative number.

So let's say those restructurings have been completed along with Woodley's, and the Steelers still need to cut another $11.5 million to get to ground zero.

The releasing of McFadden ($2.5 million) and Arnaz Battle ($1.04 million) yesterday cut that estimated $11.5 million to $8 million.

Next on the hit list? Well, let's go back to those aging vets who've formed a nucleus of greatness over the past decade.

Sad to say I'll have to start with Aaron Smith. The big man extended his contract last season to help pay for Max Starks, and Smith, according to close friends, is still unsure about retirement. But it's unlikely the Steelers can afford to pay him $2.1 million to find out if he can make it back.

Releasing Smith would take the "cap zero" number to $6 million.

Cutting Casey Hampton and Hines Ward would combine to save $9.3 million and close the deal for the Steelers. But it's not what the Steelers want.

Hampton, for one, remains an important piece, and his position coach believes Casey has a couple of years left. And, really, the nose tackle position isn't a three-down position anymore, and backup Steve McLendon is making great progress. So the need for Hampton isn't what it used to be – until the next 4th-and-1.

Ward is an icon with whom management would hate to part. And the fact remains that on March 13 Ward will still be the team's fourth-best wide receiver.

So cutting Hampton and/or Ward is not something the team wants to do. They'd rather have them agree to reduce their contracts as Jerome Bettis did in his final few seasons with the team. So let's just assume both players agree to play for a combined cost to the team of $3.5 million (forget cap numbers; these are actual salary and bonus numbers) this season. That cuts just about all of the $6 million and takes us to "cap zero."

There's also Larry Foote's salary as he enters the final year of his contract.

And there's also James Farrior's salary as he enters the final year of his contract.

One of these buck linebackers could say "goodbye" to Pittsburgh, or at the least "hello" to serious reduction(s).

There's also money to be saved by releasing players such as Chris Kemoeatu ($2.4 million), Jonathan Scott ($2.2 million) and Will Allen ($1.3 million).

Such cutting wouldn't be needed until the restricted free agency period, when the Steelers will need approximately $7.75 million for tenders to Ramon Foster, David Johnson, Doug Legursky, Keenan Lewis, Ryan Mundy and Mike Wallace.

And then there's the threat that Wallace could receive a big offer that the Steelers would want to match. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Today continues a painful slog through which the Steelers must cut into what now is a 10-player nucleus of greatness. It still includes Foote, Farrior, Ward, and Hampton, but it's a precarious inclusion.

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