Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary cap situation heading into 2021

After an ultimately disappointing season in 2020, what is the Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary cap situation entering the 2021 NFL season? Let’s take a look at the Steelers’ salary cap situation, as well as which players they could release, restructure, or extend to create additional salary cap space in 2021.

The Steelers project to be around $8 million under the salary cap in 2021

As of March 6, the 2021 NFL salary cap projects to be around $185 million. The Steelers will carry over $5.0 million in cap space to the 2021 season and have a $-500 adjustment applied to their cap per Spotrac. Therefore, the Steelers’ current salary cap projects to be $190.0 million.

As it stands, the Steelers have around $172.5 million in commitments to their top 51 highest-paid players, with an additional $9.6 million in dead money. As such, the Steelers are currently around $7.9 million under the salary cap heading into 2021.

To view the most up-to-date numbers for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary cap space, check out our team by team 2021 salary cap space article, which is updated daily.

Pittsburgh has a handful of potential options for releasing players

While the Steelers have managed to get under the 2021 salary cap with Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement and the restructure of Ben Roethlisberger, any additional cap relief will require some creativity before free agency. As such, releasing players are a possibility to free up further cap space this year.

Could the Steelers look to make a change at cornerback?

The Steelers have two cornerbacks in Joe Haden and Steven Nelson taking up a large portion of their salary cap in 2021. Haden expects to count $15.6 against the Steelers’ salary cap, with Nelson at $14.4 million. That is a combined $30 million, or around 15 percent of the cap space assigned to the position. With both in the final year of their deals, the Steelers could look to extend one or both.

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However, the more likely outcome is extending Nelson, who is four years younger. Therefore, that leaves Haden as either a player they ask to take a pay cut, or they look to release. Releasing Haden would save the Steelers $7 million, leaving $8.6 million in dead money.

Could the Steelers look to make further changes to their offensive line?

With the Steelers potentially losing LT Alejandro Villanueva to free agency and C Maurkice Pouncey heading to retirement, it seems unlikely they would be willing to part ways with another key offensive lineman. David DeCastro performed well in 2020, with just 9 blown blocks, 2 penalties, and being credited with 0 sacks allowed.

As of now, DeCastro will count $14.3 million against the Steelers’ salary cap in 2021. Releasing him would save them $8.75 million in cap space in 2021.

Which other players could the Steelers release in 2021?

While both Eric Ebron and Vince Williams were perfectly serviceable at their positions in 2020, the Steelers may feel they can get similar production at cheaper cost in 2021. Ebron carries an $8.5 million cap number, but $6 million of it can be salary cap space for the Steelers in 2021 if they release him. On the other hand, Williams will count $7.0 million against the cap (a release would save $4 million).

The Steelers could also consider releasing the following players this offseason:

  • Chris Boswell, K – Cap savings: $1.4 million; Dead money: $3.4 million
  • Chukwuma Okorafor, OT – Cap savings: $2.2 million; Dead money: $203,091
  • Derek Watt, FB – Cap savings: $1.7 million; Dead money: $2.2 million
  • James Washington, WR – Cap savings: $1.1 million; Dead money: $338,428

The Steelers have players they can extend or restructure to create cap space in 2021

The Steelers have minimal options for reducing their cap number in 2021. Their best path may be extending high-priced players and pushing guaranteed money into future seasons.

Extending T.J. Watt could save a large amount of cap space in 2021

The 2021 season will see T.J. Watt count $10.1 million against the Steelers’ 2021 salary cap as he plays out his fifth-year option. However, the Steelers could potentially save around $9 million of that if they are clever with his extension.

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The Steelers could push Watt’s guaranteed money into 2022, 2023, and 2024 while reducing his salary to the veteran minimum. That would leave Watt counting just $1 million against the salary cap in 2021.

Stephon Tuitt is the only realistic option when it comes to further restructures

With Ben Roethlisberger and Cameron Heyward having already restructured their deals, Stephon Tuitt remains the last realistic restructure. Tuitt has a $14.9 million cap number in 2021, and the Steelers could push $4 million into 2022. Adding void years to the contract could further spread the salary cap hit.

The Steelers could do similar restructure deals to what they did with Roethlisberger with Haden, Nelson, and DeCastro. If they do not want to extend them conventionally, they could add void years to their deals and simply spread some of their salary cap numbers in 2022.

Want more NFL news and analysis?

Be sure to follow us on Twitter (@PFN365) to stay up to date with all things around the NFL. Also, continue to visit Pro Football Network for NFL news and in-depth analysis concerning the 2021 season and beyond.

Ben Rolfe is a Senior Managing Editor and the Fantasy Football Director at Pro Football Network. He is also a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association (FSWA). You can find him on Twitter @BenRolfePFN

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