The Steelers have begun the process of clearing salary cap space with less than a month to go before the new league year begins.
According to NFL Network, the Steelers restructured the contract of veteran defensive end Cam Heyward on Monday, converting his roster bonus and base salary into a signing bonus that created $7 million in savings on the salary cap in 2021. Heyward signed a four-year, $65 million deal with $26 million guaranteed last summer.
It’s the first of what could be many restructures or releases in the coming weeks as the Steelers try to get under the salary cap.
The league has told teams the cap floor will be $180 million for the 2021 season, but that figure could increase in the coming weeks as league executives try to work out future television contracts with their broadcast partners.
The salary cap last season was set at $198 million, but losses in gate and game-day revenues means the cap will be flat or decrease.
Before Heyward’s restructure the Steelers were at $211 million, according to overthecap.com. The Steelers already saved $13 million on their cap when Maurkice Pouncey and Vance McDonald retired earlier this year.
The biggest savings, of course, could come when the Steelers make a decision on the future of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is currently on the books for a $41 million cap hit in 2021.
The Steelers have said he can’t return at that figure, and Roethlisberger told the Post-Gazette, “I don’t care about my pay at all this year.”
The two parties had not met about his contract as of late last week. If Roethlisberger retires or is released, the Steelers would save an additional $19 million off their cap. Other options include restructuring Roethlisberger’s contract and pushing more money into future cap hits with voidable years, or asking Roethlisberger to take a pay cut for the first time in his career.
Several other Steelers veterans with high cap hits in 2021 are candidates to be released or restructured. The Steelers have to make decisions on cornerbacks Joe Haden ($15.5 million cap hit) and Steven Nelson ($14.4 million cap hit), offensive lineman David DeCastro ($14.3 million cap hit), tight end Eric Ebron ($8.5 million cap hit) and linebacker Vince Williams ($7 million cap hit).
Some of the aforementioned players and others also could take pay cuts, restructure their contracts or sign extensions to help the Steelers get under the cap in the next few weeks.
The Steelers have long utilized restructures as a way to create cap space. Players don’t lose any money when they restructure.
In fact, they can make more money by getting their money up front if they invest well.
The downside for players is they become more vulnerable to being released in the final years of their contracts because of the bloated cap hits.