What Can the New Payload Bring?

Now that Casey Hampton has agreed to a pay cut, what are the Steelers going to do with the extra money? Jim Wexell has a four-point plan, plus some draft news.

The first two questions put to me after Casey Hampton agreed to a pay cut that saved the Steelers $3.09 million in cap space Wednesday were these:

* Why would Hampton agree to cut his pay down to $2.9 million?

* Why didn't the Steelers just cut Hampton and save everything but a million-dollar injury settlement?

The answer to both questions is: compromise.

The Steelers still need Hampton, while Hampton sees no reason to uproot himself with nearly $3 million still on the table.

The better question came today: What will the Steelers do with the $6 million they now have available under the salary cap? Now we're talking business.

1. First of all, the Steelers have enough money to successfully fend off any realistic offer for restricted free agent Mike Wallace. Teams have until April 20 to make Wallace an offer and the Steelers would have seven days to match if he signs. If the Steelers wouldn't match it, they would receive a first-round pick as compensation.

2. The Steelers can re-sign veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. He's being wooed by his old team, the New York Jets, but where was the Jets' love last year when they unceremoniously dumped Cotchery in August? Cotchery may have forgiven them but he certainly hasn't forgot.

The Steelers can use Cotchery as a No. 3 or 4 receiver, and Cotchery has spoken very highly of the organization. And don't forget that Ben Roethlisberger pushed for Cotchery to get more playing time last season. Cotchery certainly won't forget that.

As for the money, I'm guessing that a $3.5-4 million bonus over four years would add about $1.5 million to their cap number.

3. The Steelers can extend Wallace. They have time for this, but since I'm ameliorating away (and getting help from my capologist, Ian Whetstone) I may as well hit it now.

The Steelers like to fit players into a logical order on their pay scale, so let's place Wallace between Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley and pay him an average of $9.5 million to $10 million, which compares with DeSean Jackson's new 5-year, $51 million deal. My consultant tells me the Steelers could squeeze that type of contract into a $4 million cap hit this year, up only $1.3 from the $2.7 million tender that's already being counted.

4. With approximately $3.2 million left, the Steelers will need a few more bucks to sign their draft class ($3.5 to $4 million) and pay their practice squad ($775,000), and they'll also need some money in reserve for emergencies. The Steelers won't need to sign the rookies until late in the summer, after they've drafted, say, a tackle and cut, say, Jonathan Scott and his $2.2 million salary.

So the Steelers aren't completely out of the woods, but they're very close.

This Week in Draft News

It was almost as if the Steelers used the week to make a statement about how little they think about the opening of free agency.

While NFL owners, general managers and coaches whined and dined some of the greatest athletes in the world and begged them to take their tens of millions, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was breaking bread with Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Of course, Tomlin and the Steelers aren't going to waste a third-round pick on a backup quarterback, but why not get the lowdown on whether MSU safety Trenton Robinson is easily fooled by fake pumps? Or whether big DT Jerel Worthy has a winning work ethic?

Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert perused the Michigan State talent the next day, and on Thursday hopped over to Ann Arbor to check out Chris Hoke-like nose tackle Mike Martin. Earlier in the week, Colbert was in Alabama and watched a boatload of prospects, but in particular he watched inside linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Word is that Colbert liked what he saw in Hightower, who has to be the frontrunner today for the team's pick at 1-24.


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