by Scunge

Let us turn our attention to the upcoming offseason, of 2020, and how difficult it is going to be. I can’t remember a time that the Steelers had so many players up for free agency, both as unrestricted, restricted free agents or playing in the last year of their contracts.

These are the unrestricted free agents:

Bud Dupree
Javon Hargrave
Nick Vannett
BJ Finney
Artie Burns
Sean Davis
Tyler Matakevich

And here are the restricted free agents:

Mike Hilton
Matt Feiler
Zach Banner
Jordan Dangerfield

Finally, the players all in the last year of their respective contracts:

TJ Watt
JuJu Smith Schuster
James Conner
Cam Sutton
Al Villanueva
Anthony Chickillo
Ramon Foster
Tyson Alualu
Cam Heyward

The cutting of Donte Moncreif hopefully preserved the 3rd round comp pick but it did immediately help with cap savings. We are most likely going to be able to roll over some $6 million to next year, provided they don’t do something stupid like trying to sign a veteran RB or WR that quickly eats up that $6 million. Those that want to sign a Dez Bryant or Jay Ajayi, all that is going to do is carve into that cap savings that we desperately need heading into next year.

Of the above players, some are immediately cast aside. We want Artie Burns and Sean Davis to leave for free agency and with a little luck sign some nice deals that may reap us some comp picks in 2021. Count me as one who wants Tyler Matakevich gone as well, time to add some younger, faster, more athletic players for special teams.

In my view, the Steelers have to figure out a way to keep Bud Dupree, Javon Hargrave and Nick Vannett. And it would be great to keep BJ Finney.

Of the Restricted Free Agents, it would be nice to be able to keep Mike Hilton, Matt Feiler and Zach Banner. Unfortunately, the RFA 2nd round tender will be somewhere around $3.3 million. This season BJ Finney played with that 2nd round tender to the tune of $3.1 million and that number goes up each year. To put 2nd round tenders on all three of those players would add up to almost $10 million. If they give Banner the lowest tender, I think that still is some $2.4 million? So, two 2nd round tenders on Fieler and Hilton and the low tender on Banner still amounts to $9 million.

Now, yes, I have been using the words ‘nice’ and, ‘it would be great’, to keep this player and that but tough decisions have to be made. We can’t keep everybody, but do you keep a player that has one year left on his deal and risk losing a player that you want to sign and be a vital member of your team for the next 3-4 years???

The one thing that seems real obvious to me is that this offseason will be difficult in that they are going to have to cut some vets with one year remaining on their deals. I also think that they will do some restructures and sign players to new extensions, but it really does appear that they are going to have to be real busy before the league year starts.

For example, I have been beating this drum for a while now but they should cut Barron, Chickillo, Foster and Alualu and free up $17 million heading into March.

Again, this is what I would do. What I do next is I go to Steven Nelson and restructure his contract. He has two years left on his deal. He has been a fabulous addition, rock solid and his contract is interesting. He has a Roster Bonus of $3 million due in March and a base salary of $5.25 million. They can take $4.25 million of his base and that $3 million roster bonus and pay it to him in the form of a signing bonus. That 7.25 million is then prorated over two years. The end result? That creates $3.625 million in cap space.

For the time being, I am only going to tally the restructures and new extensions. So, we have $3.625 million added to the $6 million that carried over, we are up to $9.625 million in cap space.

I know people don’t like the cutting of Foster but of your two starting tackles, Feiler is an RFA and Big Al is entering the last year of his deal and BJ Finney is an unrestricted free agent and Banner is an RFA too. The O-Line is getting old but you have a lot of younger players that are due for their second NFL contracts and you have your LT entering his last year, can you really afford to let Foster come back and finish out the last year of his contract?? No, I don’t really think that you can, that $4 million is needed to help tender Fieler/Banner, or give Feiler a new contract, or give Finney a new contract, or give Big Al a new extension. What is sort of funny, is that BJ Finney can literally price himself out of consideration if he really does well in his replacing of Pouncey, if he puts good/great film on tape, some team will overpay for him.

Again, to put the 2nd round tender on Feiler would be $3.3 million and that immediately goes into effect the first week of March, the full amount counts against the cap. So, if you had $6 million, you tender Matt and now you have just $2.7 million.

With my Steven Nelson restructure I have the cap space up to $9.625 million. What if they gave Big Al and Matt Feiler new extensions/contracts?? You look at RTs that Feiler compares to and the price is around 4-5 years, $30-35 million. Look at the contracts of those RTs ranked from 10-15 and they average $6-7 million per season. Even if Matt Feiler was signed to a new 5 year deal for say $32 million, it would probably result in a first year cap hit of some $ 3 million, so why wouldn’t the Steelers just give him a new contract and just skip giving him a 2nd round tender? You are saving a little bit of money and if you went the RFA tender route then you are faced with him possibly leaving for free agency in 2021. But still you have a starting RT who is going to cost you at least $3 million plus for his 2020 season and the money has to come from somewhere.

Big Al?? I think they can add a two year extension and take some of his $5 million base from 2020 and add it to the signing bonus and spread it out over the 3 years. I don’t think it will be a very big amount of savings, maybe lower his cap hit from $8.4 million in 2020 to say $6.4 million, so a cap savings of $2 million?

Add that to the $9.625 and we are now up to $11.625 million.

We start out with $6 million.
Restructure Steven Nelson to get up to $9.625 million
Give starting RT Matt Feiler a new contract 5 years, $32 million, a first year cap hit of $3 million, so we are down to $6.625 million in cap space.
Give starting LT Al Villanueva a 2 year, $22 million extension, take some of his $5 million base and restructure it, free up $2 million, we are now up to $8.625 million in cap space.

Of the 2017 draft class, we worry about JuJu and TJ Watt until 2021. In that offseason they can pick up Watt’s 5th year option and they can franchise JuJu or sign him to a new deal. Conner you don’t worry about until that 2021 offseason. Cam Sutton, that is the player you have to worry about THIS upcoming offseason. Instead of trying to sign Mike Hilton to some insane nickel back contract, which can be anywhere from $18-25 million, they should instead try to sign Cam Sutton for a little less money. He is the #3 CB who will backup both Nelson and Haden and he can be a great nickel back, much better in coverage than Mike Hilton, Mike is really like a 3rd safety who plays better close to the line of scrimmage, in coverage he is a liability. Haden is up in years and Sutton could very well replace him as the starter sooner rather than later, Cam can do that, Hilton can’t, which is why he is the priority signing.

Where could the money come to sign Cam Sutton to a fairly large contract?? Something like 3 years, $18 million? Well Cam Hayward will be in the last year of his contract. And he is still playing at a real high level and is one of the leaders of the team and certainly the defense. I can see the team offering him a 3 year, $33 million extension, reworking his base salary for 2020, yada, yada, yada, and lowering his 2020 cap hit of $13.25 million to $9.75 million, freeing up $3.5 million??

That brings the salary cap space up from $8.625 million to $12.125 million.

If they sign Cam Sutton to a new contract, give him that 3 year, $18 million, say an $8 million signing bonus with a first year base salary of $1 million, that could be a first year cap hit of just $3.667 million. I look at CBs like Pierre Desir, Darryl Roberts, Jonathan Jones to come up with what Cam Sutton might get. Anyway, that takes the cap space down to $8.458 million.

To sum up so far, I have signed both of our starting tackles to protect Ben for the next two years Al Villanueva and Matt Feiler, I have signed Cam Heyward to a new extension, Cam Sutton has been signed for the next 3 years to be our nickel back, #3 CB and potential starter should Haden falter.

On offense, we gave up a 5th round pick for Nick Vannett and while it may not appear like it this season but he has the look of a fine #2 TE, a combo TE who can block and catch, a perfect complementary TE. But he is an unrestricted free agent and if you look at what good, quality #2 TEs go for in free agency, the price is in that $18-20 million range. Detroit really overpaid for Jesse James. Look at Jack Doyle, Tyler Kroft, CJ Uzomah, Nick Boyle, those are all $6 million per season TEs. I can see the Steelers hedging their bets against McDonald’s injury history and signing Nick Vannett to a very good deal, something like 3 years, $19 million, $6 million signing bonus? He could have a first year base of $1 million and a first year cap hit of $3 million?

That lowers the cap space to $5.458 million.

So, what players do we still have to make a decision on? Who to keep? Let go?

Bud Dupree, Javon Hargarve, BJ Finney, Mike Hilton, Zach Banner. Wouldn’t it be great to keep all of them? But how? Banner and Hilton are RFAs and to keep their rights we would have to put a 2nd round tender on them, which would be $3.3 million per player, $6.6 million is more than what we have left ($5.458 million). The franchise tag on either Dupree or Hargarve would easily be over $15 million. BJ Finney was seriously considered by the Saints last offseason, demand for offensive linemen is really high, not enough to go around. Is Finney any good, his time subbing for Pouncey could really drive up his market. I can see somebody giving him a $4 million per year contract if he performs well these next few games, 3 year, $12 million, 4 years, $16 million.

Again, where is the money going to come from?? David DeCastro could do a restructure, free up some $3.5 million. They could restructure Stephon Tuitt again, for a 3rd time and free up $4-5 million. Say they did both of those restructures and it got us up to $13 million in cap space, might that be enough?

Look at what some of the top OLBs got in free agency last season, Green Bay’s Z’Darius Smith and Preston Smith. Z signed a 4 year, $66 million contract that had only a first year cap hit of $7.2 million. Preston signed a 4 year, $52 million deal that had a first year cap hit of just $6 million.

With Javon Hargrave, I look at some DTs like Chicago’s Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, I look at Cleveland’s Sheldon Richardson, I look at the Ravens Brandon Williams. Yeah, Goldman and Williams signed for $42 million and $52 million but their first year cap hits were $3.8 million.

It may seem impossible to sign both Dupree and Hargrave but it isn’t really, if you have the cap space. Say the Steelers give Dupree what Z’Darious Smith got from Green Bay, say the Steelers give Hargrave what Williams or Goldman got, the combined first year cap hits of Dupree and Hargrave for 2020 would only be $11 million. And we are theoretically with $13 million in cap space, so we can sign them but it leaves with only $2 million in cap space. And we still have BJ Finney and Zach Banner and Mike Hilton, still have the rookie draft pool to worry about, still have to worry about having a cushion to enter the season like they always want to do, you are about $15 million short.

Unless, you cut Chickillo to free up $5 million, you cut Mark Barron to free up $5.25 million, you cut Foster to free up $4 million, you cut Tyson Alualu to free up $2.75 million. You do those 4 cuts and you now have $19 million in cap space, more than enough to tender Hilton, tender Banner, sign Finney to a 3 year deal, have enough money for the rookie draft pool, and then still be able to enter the season with 3-4 million to spare.

One thing I would like to point out is that the Steeler trading away their first rounder and both 5th rounders means they have less picks in their draft class pool, so it is less money needed. Funny how so many publications get that so wrong, saying we will need $6-7-8 million for the draft class pool, just not the case at all. We only will need some $4.65 million by my calculations. Not having that first round pick means that player will not gobble up $2.8 million of our salary cap for 2020.

I tender Hilton with the idea of trading him, if Detroit can fetch a 5th rounder for their nickel back Quandry Diggs, then maybe the Steelers can get a 4th for Hilton.

This all looks very doable to me, they just have to be very busy and not waste any time in the offseason, the minute the season ends they should be working hard on all of the restructures, extensions, new contracts and whatnot. They can’t dilly dally and wait too long, put if off until the last minute, before the madness starts in March, by that time it will be too late.

I know people think why don’t we just restructure Ben’s contract? To me that thing is a mess, the numbers are insane, the roster bonuses are insanely high and he only has two years left on his deal, how do you restructure something that has so little time left on it?? You could free up some money theoretically for 2020 but then it might mean that Ben might have a $40+ million cap hit that really takes it toll on the cap in 2021. Remember we have Watt that will either be signed to a new huge extension or be on that 5th year option, we will have to pay JuJu or put the franchise tag on him. Are they forced to keep Conner because no RBs were acquired/stepped up to be that starting RB?? Restructuring Ben when they really don’t know for certain how his arm responds is dangerous and it makes for a dicey proposition. I think they look to avoid reworking his contract.