This offseason could be ugly for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their fans.
The Steelers' dicey salary cap situation could force the team to part ways with every one of their free agents, according to Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The Steelers could lose every one of their free agents, and they might have to lose a few more veterans if they don't agree to take less money in 2013. They are so far over the salary cap that they would not be able to fill a 53-man roster without doing all of that.
The bloodletting that occurred last year when they released three longtime stars could be a drop in the bucket as to what occurs over the next month, which could resemble their March Massacre.
Essentially, the Steelers have no money to do anything. They will either need to A) cut players, B) restructure contracts or C) a combination of both.
How did the Steelers get to this point? Here are their five most expensive contracts, according to spotrac:
- QB Ben Roethlisberger ... 8 years, $102 million (FA year: 2016)
- LB LaMarr Woodley ... 6 years, $61.5 million (FA year: 2017)
- LB James Harrison ... 6 years, $51.75 million (FA year: 2015)
- LB Lawrence Timmons ... 6 years, $50 million (FA year: 2017)
- WR Antonio Brown ... 6 years, $43 million (FA year: 2018)
For just the top five contracts, that's $102 million devoted to one player and $163.25 million devoted to three linebackers.
The NFL's 2013 salary cap is $121.1 million, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. Here are the Steelers' 13 players who will make more than $1 million in 2013-2014:
- QB Ben Roethlisberger -- $11.6 million
- LB LaMarr Woodley -- $9 million
- S Troy Polamalu -- $7.5 million
- LB James Harrison -- $6.57 million
- CB Ike Taylor -- $6 million
- G Willie Colon -- $5.5 million
- LB Lawrence Timmons -- $5.375 million
- TE Heath Miller -- $5.162 million
- S Ryan Clark -- $3.5 million
- DE Brett Keisel -- $2.5 million
- WR Antonio Brown -- $2 million
- K Shaun Suisham -- $1.425 million
- WR Jerricho Cotchery -- $1 million
That adds up to $67.13 million, which is a far ways away from $121 million -- but that doesn't factor in bonuses. The Steelers have a base salary of $88.3 million for 2013-2014 for their entire roster, which includes $509 thousand of "dead money."
The Steelers have $47.51 million in just bonuses due in 2013. That pushes the total figure to $135.31 million.
Now you can see where the problem lies.
The Steelers -- right now, without re-signing any of their free agents or pursuing others -- are roughly $14 million over the salary cap.
The biggest hit is Roethlisberger's $19.59 million cap figure for 2013. He will be the highest paid member of the Steelers by more than $6 million over Woodley ($13.24 million). Neal Coolong of SB Nation's Behind the Steel Curtain suggests the Steelers give Roethlisberger an extension to relieve the cap hit:
The Steelers are well over the projected $121.1 million salary cap now, and Roethlisberger is at a career-high cap number of $19 million. That was largely put together last season for the sake of sparing cap space to keep a veteran group in place the team thought would be talented enough to contend for a Super Bowl. Whatever the main reason was behind why that didn't work, the fact is the Steelers are well over the salary cap, and that's a tough pill to swallow considering the people writing those checks witnessed an 8-8 team this season.
An extension wouldn't pull the Steelers out of salary cap purgatory, but it would help.
Coolong also suggests restructuring the contracts of Brown, Timmons and Miller to help with relief. And cutting Harrison would save $5.1 million, along with about $1.2 million from the release of Colon.
None of this takes an account of how to improve the team, of course. It just attempts to solve the salary cap problem. The Steelers have two noteworthy free agents that they will likely be unable to pursue because of financial issues: Running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Wallace is likely to get a huge deal as one of the most talented receivers in the free agent crop, but he said he'd like to stay in Pittsburgh.
Mendenhall, on the other hand, could be replaced by Jonathan Dwyer, but he's a restricted free agent. It's more possible that Dwyer will be back than Mendenhall at this point.
When it boils down, we only know two things about the Steelers right now: They are well over the salary cap and they have a lot of work to do over the next few months.