Steelers have work to do before March 11
Posted by Mike Florio on February 12, 2014, 2:48 PM EST

For the Steelers, salary-cap gymnastics have been a key ingredient of the weeks preceding the start of the new league year. In 2014, it’ll likely be no different.

Projected to be more than $10 million over the cap, the Steelers need to do plenty of work, in a short period of time.

Via Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, G.M. Kevin Colbert told a handful of local reporters that the effort will include “terminations, restructurings, and extensions.” That part of it’s not a surprise; the question is who gets cut, who gets a restructured deal, and who gets an extension?

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, with a cap number of $18.8 million for 2014, has been seen as the most likely to get a new long-term deal, especially since it’ll be harder to chop down the cap charge with only one year remaining on his current deal. For every dollar of his $12.1 million base salary that’s converted to a bonus, 50 cents would apply to 2014 and the other 50 would apply to 2015. And with a cap number of $18.3 million in 2015, that number can quickly get even more out of whack.

If, for example, $6 million of Roethlisberger’s base salary is converted to a bonus, his cap charge for 2014 would drop to $15.8 million — and his cap number for 2015 would rise to $21.3 million.

At some point, a new deal will be necessary, but Roethlisberger may want to be paid among the highest-paid quarterbacks in the league, who currently are making more than $20 million per year.

Elsewhere on the roster, cutting tackle Levi Brown would free up $6 million immediately. Dumping cornerback Ike Taylor would open up $7 million in cap space. Whacking safety Troy Polamalu would free up $8.25 million.

Other contracts could be “restructured” like Roethlisberger’s has been in past years, with money converted from salary to bonus, pushing current cap dollars into future years.

Regardless, the Steelers will try to find a way to hold the team together. Colbert explained that the Steelers are “never going to say, OK, we’re not going to be a contender, let’s gut this thing and start over.”

Part of remaining a contender could be finding a way to keep linebacker Jason Worillds (who is due to be a free agent) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley (who has a base salary of $8 million and a cap number of $13.5 million). Colbert said it’s possible to keep both guys.

Despite missing the playoffs in each of the last two years, the Steelers have shown an ability to consistently contend for postseason berths. Recently, they’ve been unable to develop the kind of young talent that previously stepped in when older players left or were cut. Regardless of what the Steelers do with their veteran players, they need to get more mileage out of their draft picks and other young players who eventually become the high-priced veterans whose contracts need to be restructured.