The Pittsburgh Steelers’ salary-cap noose, which had been tight enough to choke even the most pencil-thin neck, is a whole lot more comfortable now that the NFL has increased the cap to $133 million.
That’s $10 million more than last season and nearly $7 million more than the projection.
This is the Steelers’ biggest stroke of luck off the field since David DeCastro dropped all the way to No. 24 in the first round of the 2012 draft.
With this windfall, the Steelers can get down to the business of re-signing Jason Worilds. They can even do it without making any of the gut-wrenching cuts that have become as much a part of March in recent years as green beer.
That’s right. Ike Taylor and LaMarr Woodley don’t have to bow out in the same unceremonious way that Hines Ward, James Farrior and Aaron Smith did in 2012. At least not this year.
Let’s not even lump Troy Polamalu into this category. The Steelers need him in 2014 and he’s worth every bit of his $8.25 million salary.
Taylor and Woodley are more expendable, and while they shouldn’t have to suffer the indignity of Ward, Farrior and Smith, they could get the James Harrison treatment if one or both of them aren’t willing to take a pay cut.
First thing’s first. The Steelers have to release Levi Brown, an offensive tackle they acquired in 2013 who hurt himself in warmups before playing a down. No tears will be shed there. Not too many Steelers fans are rocking No. 67 Brown jerseys. The highlight of his career as a Steeler came when he bent over and touched his toes before the stadium was even half full.
Releasing Brown will free up $6.25 million in cap space, according to OvertheCap.com. That would get the Steelers about $600,000 under the cap. They’ll need more than that to re-sign Worilds before he hits the open market at 4 p.m., on March 11.
Worilds, who turns 26 on March 3, led the Steelers with eight sacks in 2013. Seven of them came in his last eight games. That productive half season vaulted Worilds to No. 2 on NFL.com’s list of this year’s top free agent linebackers.
Adam Caplan of ESPN’s NFL Insiders, via Rotoworld, said Worilds “could command $6-7 million on the open market.”
The Steelers have to find a way to come up with that money. Worilds and Cameron Heyward were the only up-and-coming bright spots on a graying Steelers defense in 2013.
Taylor was one of those age spots. Cutting him would save the Steelers $7 million. He’ll be 34 in May and his play declined sharply in 2013. But if the Steelers cut him and start Cortez Allen and William Gay at cornerback next season, their backups would be Curtis Brown, who’s virtually useless outside of special teams, and a likely early-round draft pick with the training wheels that limit just about all Steelers defensive rookies. At the very least, Taylor can provide depth in 2014. The Steelers must ask him to take a pay cut. If he’s not willing to do that, then Taylor could be swaggin’ in another uniform next season.
A pay cut is the only way the Steelers can get any cap relief with Woodley. He counts $13.59 million against the cap in 2014. If they cut him, he counts $14.17 million. They could designate Woodley as a June 1 cut and spread the cap hit over the next two seasons, but they couldn’t use those savings to get under the ceiling by the March 11 deadline.
The Steelers haven’t exactly been getting their money’s worth with Woodley, who signed a six-year, $61.5 million contract after the 2010 season. The 29-year-old has missed 14 games with various injuries in the past three seasons and has just nine sacks in the past two and a half seasons.
If Taylor and Woodley both take pay cuts, the Steelers could have enough cap leeway to re-sign Worilds. If not, the next option is to see if Polamalu is willing to reduce his salary even though he’s more deserving of his money than Taylor and Woodley. Since Polamalu is entering the final year of his contract, the Steelers also could explore extending him for another year and moving some of the money to 2015, when he’s 34.
Without Worilds, the Steelers’ probable starting outside linebackers in 2014 would be an unproven Jarvis Jones and a fragile Woodley. Next in line would be Chris Carter, whose next sack will be his first.
The Steelers can’t let Worilds sign with another team. If they have to cut Taylor to keep him, so be it. But it shouldn’t have to come to that.