CAP Space Analysis: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers come into 2021 with -$15.5 million in cap room, they also have only 17 players under contract in 2022 with a projected $170 million in cap room then. Let’s investigate what the future fantasy implications are and what moves they can make to alleviate this.
The biggest decision the Steelers have first is what to do with Big Ben. Should they decide to release him and see how Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins fare they could clear $19 million in cap room putting them in the black right away, giving them around $4 million in cap room, while they make their next moves. Should they bring Ben back, the most likely way would be dropping him to the vet min like Drew Brees did for the Saints, and this would clear $29 million in cap and immediately give them $14 million in cap room to use on FAs.
With the retirement of Pouncey, this leaves them needing to address o-line already and almost all of their offensive linemen are Free Agents to boot. This is an area they need to improve anyways, and I expect them to address this via the draft and FA.
With very few players under contract through 22', I would expect them to try and clear CAP and then get multiple extensions and restructures in, building up the team’s defensive core. Minkah and Terrell both have one more year under contract and I do not think extensions are likely but with how little they have on the books in 2022 they may work to sign them early to prevent any doubt about their return.
Should they cut Ben and complete the moves above it would give them $49 million in cap room to then attack free agency with. If they were to restructure him to the vet min, this would push them up to $59 million in cap space. This will be the key to their offseason as Ben showed his age this last year and was not his usual efficient self. With so few players under contract past this season, it may make the most sense to let Ben go and see what they have with their two young QBs who they could then sign on a discount.
If they can ensure they keep enough of their core players around to be competitive and have a title shot, expect them to restructure Ben. I personally lean to them cutting him and moving on seeing what they have in their young QBs but cap-wise it makes more sense to keep him cheaply as a starter one more year.
Top Free Agents:
Cameron Sutton: This versatile DB will need to be a priority to lock up and keep around. Likely around $7-10 mil per year cost.
Mike Hilton: While more of a run stopper he did have his best year this past year and could command more money in FA than what they can pay him while making sure to keep more of their more talented players around like Sutton.
Alejandro Villanueva: Arguably one of the better tackles in the league and he will likely move on and sign with a team like Jacksonville or the Colts who have more cap room to pay him top 10 money.
Bud Dupree: With his ACL tear late in the year he is likely to start the year on PUP and was playing some of his best before this. I think they work out a long-term deal to lock him in for a couple of years since they have almost no players signed past 2021 and work to defer his salary in the deal to back-laden it.
JuJu Smith-Schuster: Juju will get paid, just not by Pitt and it would be shocking for them to re-sign him. I suspect someone like Baltimore or WFT comes calling with a lot of money and the Steeler pencil in the comp 3rd for 22 as they move forward with Diontae, Claypool, and Washington plus whomever they add in the draft.
Other Free Agents on the offensive side:
James Conner (RB): He has struggled now the past two years to remain on the field and be productive. He will likely walk as a FA and they will look to the draft and those on the roster like Snell and McFarland for now to be their starters.
Matt Feiler (OL): Likely to get around $4-6 million a year somewhere, he may become too expensive for the Steelers.
Zach Banner (OL): Likely to re-sign cheaply.
Danny Isidora (OL): Likely to re-sign cheaply.
Jerald Hawkins (OL): Likely to command $4-6 million a year and may also be too expensive.
Players To Target:
Should the Steelers not draft an RB (which most expect them to do so) then Snell and McFarland become their top RBs. Their new Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada coached McFarland at Maryland and he could be a nice buy-low candidate right now. He could likely be had for a late 4th, a 5th, or even as an add-on in another deal with upside the to play. Normally RBs who do not see the field much early on do not make an impact fantasy-wise but with the coaching familiarity and their documented struggles running the ball last year he could be someone to watch. If they draft an RB in the top 100 though, expect this player to be their starter.
WRs: We know of Diontae and Claypool. Their WR 3 next year is likely Washington or someone they draft. Washington could be had cheaply late 3rd or a 4th. If you can get him for a 4th or less, I would make the trade as this class is deep but 4th and 5th rounds (picks 37 and beyond for most drafts in 12 team leagues are still less likely to hit than someone already on a roster who has seen playing time under this staff)
TE: Ebron is still a decent TE but has had issues with drops. The year he did explode he was very TD dependent (Like Tonyan this year) and his likelihood to repeat 13 TDs is low with DJ and Claypool as red-zone threats. If they were to add a Brevin Jordan or Freiermuth later in the draft they would be good later-round rookies to grab.
1st round #24
2nd round #55
3rd round #88
4th round #119
4th round projected comp pick (Jason Hargrave)
6th round #192
6th round projected comp pick (Sean Davis)
7th round #210
7th round #219