Fiscal To-Do List Ready For Steelers

The Steelers' financial picture, from current overage to Jason Worilds to Ben Roethlisberger to elder icons to 21 free agents, Jim Wexell breaks it all down.

I was the kind of kid who saved his favorite part of the meal for last, ate his broccoli first.

That might explain why I would write a column in which the most impactful news is buried at the bottom.

But I like to carve through the gristle first and slice into the filet last. That's how I came to the conclusion last Jan. 19 that the Steelers would have little choice but to cut James Harrison and Willie Colon. I also included Jerricho Cotchery in that group, but you can't hit them all, can you?

Right now, the Steelers -- according to the numbers compiled by our cap guru at, Ian Whetstone -- are $12.7 million over the projected 2014 salary cap. That includes the 43 players under contract, the eight minimum-wage players soon to be added, the dead money from last year, and workout bonuses.

Later, the Steelers will need to find an additional $5.8 million to pay for their draft class, players 52 and 53, the practice squad, and a kitty for in-season emergencies. So, in total the Steelers will need to clear about $18.5 million.

But let's focus now on the start of the fiscal new year, March 11, and look for the $12.7 million the Steelers will need to clear to become compliant by that date.

They can just about cut the number in half by cutting Levi Brown and his $6.25 million salary, so already the Steelers are down to an overage of $6.45 million.

However, there's little fat left on this bone beyond Larry Foote, whose release would provide an additional $1.17 million.

There's also this problem: Jason Worilds would cost the Steelers close to $11 million with the franchise tag, which is the only way to make sure a free agent doesn't hit the open market.

That would lock up his rights on March 3 and they could begin talking about a new contract and cut that $11 million down to, say, $4 million this year with a multi-year deal.

The Steelers can save $8 million on June 1 by cutting LaMarr Woodley, but that won't help them get into compliance by March 11. So if they have to pay for Worilds' $11 million franchise tag, and the near $5.3 million overage still left after cutting Brown and Foote, the Steelers are looking at these options:

* Convince Worilds that signing a contract (without hitting the open market) instead of a franchise tender would better help the team and therefore would eventually come around to better serve him. Of course, his agent probably won't want to take any such altruistic visions to the bank.

* Work out a long-term extension for Ben Roethlisberger before March 11. That won't be easy, since he has two years remaining on his current contract and can demand to be paid better than Joe Flacco.

According to Whetstone, a Roethlisberger extension would look something like this:

" ... a new six-year deal (replacing the remaining two years on his current contract) totaling $105 million. That's $17.5M per year in cash average terms, but in extension terms it's $81.3 million in new money over four new years, which drives the annual average that agents care most about up over Flacco's $20.1M.

"Structure this deal with a $30 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2.1M (2014), $5.6M (2015), 14.8M (2016), $15.5M (2017), $17.2M (2018), and $19.8M (2019). That would drop his 2014 cap hit by $4M to $14,895,000 and leave his 2015 hit right where it is now, at $18,395,000. The cap hits in the extension years would be $20.8M (2016), $21.5M (2017), $23.2M (2018), and $19.8M (2019). Those are big cap numbers, but in line with what we're going to see among franchise quarterbacks."

So a fair extension of Roethlisberger would save $4 million and keep a franchise QB in town for the next six seasons. But with a Worilds' franchise tag involved, the Steelers would still need to cut an additional $12.3 million.

* Restructuring! (You know, the option that put them in this cap hell in the first place!)

For anyone who might foam at the mouth and call for someone's head during the next, say, 0-4 start, remember that these restructurings are being done to keep a 25-year-old former second-round draft pick who's just now blossoming into a legitimate NFL pass-rusher.

The key is to restructure young players who have a propensity for staying healthy, such as the 27-year-old Lawrence Timmons and the 25-year-old Antonio Brown. A full restructuring of each contract would save a combined $7.9 million and keep the Steelers from the next and final option, the nuclear option.

* Renegotiate, or even release, older stars entering the final years of their contracts.

It might be easy to view the contracts of Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor as low-hanging fruit. But my gut tells me the Steelers don't have enough leverage to ask Polamalu to take a cut from his $8.3 million salary.

Polamalu is coming off his eighth Pro Bowl and matched Timmons for the defensive lead with 1,093 snaps. Polamalu's an icon in this town and his savvy would be needed in the back end if the Steelers, as expected, let Ryan Clark leave in free agency.

The better option for the Steelers might be to seek a pay cut from Taylor, who has already stated that he wouldn't play for another team.

Taylor's been amenable to Dan Rooney's wishes in the past, so asking Taylor to reduce his $7 million salary -- and when you ask a player, you had better be prepared to release the player -- might end better than asking Polamalu.

Now, this is not a strict blueprint on coming into compliance and keeping Worilds at the same time, but it's a list of the options from which the Steelers must choose to get their house in order before free agency.

Then, the Steelers can begin to consider which of these 21 free agents they can re-sign: Plaxico Burress, Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, Jonathan Dwyer, Felix Jones, LaRod Stephens-Howling, David Johnson, Michael Palmer, Fernando Velasco, Cody Wallace, Guy Whimper, Ziggy Hood, Brett Keisel, Al Woods, Stevenson Sylvester, Jamaal Westerman, Worilds, Will Allen, Clark, Mat McBriar, Greg Warren.

And that's a column for another day.

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