Painful Cuts Ahead

James? Troy? Or both? (Shamus/Getty Images)

By Jim Wexell
Posted Jan 19, 2013

To come into cap compliance by March 12, the Steelers are going to have to cut some fan favorites. Jim Wexell breaks down the numbers provided by SCI capologist Ian Whetstone.

I apologize up front, because no one signed up here to read about football from an accountant’s point of view.

But it’s better than reading about Manti Te’o, isn’t it?

Ah, you’re getting my point.

So buck up and follow along, because every year at this time we need to take a look at the numbers behind the makeup of the Steelers’ roster. And now is that time.

First of all, give a heartfelt thanks to GM Kevin Colbert, who spoke to a select group of football writers this week and told them he was going to blow up the team.

Well, he didn’t say exactly that. He put it this way: “If we don’t change the roster that produced 8-8, we’d be silly to expect a better result if we have the same group of guys … We’re not married to any of these guys.”

To blow up or tune up, that is the question.

Of course, we can let the numbers be our guide, and right now, according to Ian Whetstone, the resident capologist at, the Steelers have 44 players under contract at a cost of approximately $133.2 million.

By March 12, the start of the league’s fiscal New Year, the Steelers must pare that total salary number to $121 million for the top 51 salaries.

To get to 51, let’s add exclusive rights free agents DeMarcus Van Dyke ($555,000) and Baron Batch ($480,000) and extend original-round tenders of $1.386 million to restricted free agents Jonathan Dwyer, Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Emmanuel Sanders and Stevenson Sylvester.

Yes, the Steelers could lose McLendon or Redman without draft-choice compensation, but they could also match any offer made to them.

That would bring the cap total to a little more than $141 million, so the Steelers would need to cut approximately $20 million by March 12 just to avoid penalty.

In the ensuing weeks and months, they would then need to clear enough room to sign their draft picks and any of their following free agents:

Will Allen, Charlie Batch, Plaxico Burress, Larry Foote, Ramon Foster, Casey Hampton, Brandon Johnson, David Johnson, Byron Leftwich, Doug Legursky, Keenan Lewis, Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Mundy, Leonard Pope, Max Starks, Mike Wallace and Greg Warren.

Now, sorting through that long list of free agents is a column in itself (and I swear I’ll write that column if I hear the name Te’o one more time), but for now let’s stay focused on the numbers. Please.

Now, since the draft class will cost about $3 million, and they’ll want to put aside about $7 million to keep some free agents, it looks like Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan and the Rooneys will need to pare about $30 million total to get ready for next season. And this is where the fun stops.

Here are the veterans who, if cut, would provide the most cap savings:

James Harrison ($5.1M), Troy Polamalu ($4.9M), Ben Roethlisberger ($4M), Heath Miller ($3.8M), Ryan Clark ($3.5M), Brett Keisel ($2.8M), Ike Taylor ($2.5M), Ziggy Hood ($2M), Willie Colon ($1.2M), Shaun Suisham ($1.1M) and Jerricho Cotchery ($1M). (They could pull one or two of the aforementioned $1.4 million RFA tenders as well.)

The total savings if all were cut would be approximately $32 million, or $2 million over our target.

And remember that the minimum wage of a potential replacement is $405,000, so multiply that by the 11 vets we just cut and now we’re still looking to find an additional $2.5 million to pare.

That would leave the Steelers with someone just as bad as Tim Tebow – only with less experience – as the starting at quarterback, so what’s the point?

There has to be a better way. And there is.

As Colbert said, the Steelers will cut players, but also extend and restructure contracts. Thankfully, Ian Whetstone’s numerical wizardry provides us with that insight as well.

According to Ian, a reasonable four-year contract extension (with a $35 million bonus) for Roethlisberger would provide about $3.5 million in relief. And full restructures of Timmons, Miller and Antonio Brown would provide another $10.7 million.

As for the cutting of veterans, it doesn’t appear as if they’ll be able to avoid cutting the 35-year-old Harrison, bringing the target total to $19.3 million.

Colon and Cotchery are two more painful cuts, and the total’s now at $21.5 million.

That gets the team into compliance by March 12, but every signing thereafter would require an equal and opposite reaction.

Some will call for the cutting of Polamalu, I’m sure, or possibly Clark, Keisel and/or Taylor.

That’s not my thinking, but then again it’s not my money. It’s just my column, and I probably should’ve used the space to write about Te’o. It would’ve been less depressing.