The Steelers will utilize one-time exemptions that provide $3 million in salary-cap relief this season. Beyond that, a number of things could happen this week: The Steelers must get in compliance with the salary cap, which will be $123.375 million for them, by Thursday.
They could cut more veterans with hefty cap numbers, as they did with tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams and receiver Antwaan Randle El. Those moves provided around $12 million in salary-cap dollars. But the Steelers also signed cornerback Ike Taylor and tackle Willie Colon as well as their entire draft class, offsetting those gains and leaving them with roughly $7 million to $10 million to trim to get under the cap.
Director of football operations Kevin Colbert said Saturday that the Steelers may have to make more cuts based on salary. But he is hopeful that the Steelers can get in compliance with the cap -- starting Thursday, only the 51 highest salaries count against it -- by restructuring and renegotiating contracts.
"I think we can (avoid cutting players for salary-cap reasons) based on what we have right now," Colbert said. "This thing will change daily, as it has since it opened up, and we have to be ready to try to make the best moves we can to help our team."
Translation: The Steelers will stay open to improving the team through free agency, as demonstrated by their courtship of receiver Plaxico Burress.
More additions inevitably will lead to subtraction, but one way to lower a salary cap number is to increase spending. Take outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley for example.
The Steelers signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal in February after using the franchise tag. The sides are expected to talk about a long-term contract this week. And if the Steelers get a deal done before Thursday, the signing bonus would be spread out evenly over the life of the contract -- and actually provide salary-cap relief.
"It was said, once the CBA gets worked out, we're going to work out a long-term deal, so only time will tell," Woodley said. "I'm not going to make a big deal out of it and have it on my mind every day. I still have to go out and practice every day and get ready to get back to that Super Bowl."
The contracts that the Steelers restructure and renegotiate likely won't be made official until Wednesday evening after practice. The reason for that is simple: Due to a rule that nobody seems to understand the logic of, free agents or players who receive new deals are not allowed to practice until Thursday, the first day of the new NFL calendar.
If the Steelers announced a deal with Woodley on Tuesday, they would have to bar him from practicing again until Thursday. As Colbert said, "Right now, practice time is very valuable because we're so far behind."