BY JIM WEXELL
For The Tribune-Democrat
The NFL’s new fiscal year begins March 2, so the Steelers have less than two weeks to get their affairs in order.
Here are some of the issues facing the team:
n Decision due on Joey Porter’s future: It’s possible the Steelers could drop Porter and his 2007 salary of $4 million. But if they pay a March roster bonus of $1 million, he’ll stay.
Should they pay $5 million to a 30-year-old pass rusher with bad knees?
The only legitimate replacement on the roster is James Harrison, and he hasn’t shown to be consistently better than left outside linebacker Clark Haggans, let alone Porter. The only other player on the depth chart is Arnold Harrison, whose first season was wrecked by a torn ACL.
If the Steelers dump Porter, they’d need a veteran linebacker from the free-agent class. However, the best of the upcoming crop appear unattainable. Lance Briggs, 26, was slapped with a $7.2 million franchise tag by the Chicago Bears. Baltimore’s Adalius Thomas, who’ll turn 30 by next season, is looking for a signing bonus in the $12 million neighborhood.
A cheaper alternative as a 3-4 (even 4-3) pass rusher is Tully Banta-Cain of the New England Patriots. He’s 6-foot-2, 250 pounds and won’t turn 27 until August.
With a career-high 5.5 sacks last season, he’s on the rise as a player and therefore a classic Kevin Colbert target. But the Patriots, at almost $27 million under the cap, can easily keep him.
What’s apparent is that the cost of doing business is skyrocketing, so a healthy Porter could be a bargain at $5 million.
n The Steelers are in much better cap position than they’ve ever been: So proclaims Pittsburgh’s preeminent cap scholars, The ’Burgh Sports Guys. A concise summation at burghsportsguys.com projects the Steelers to be under the 2007 cap by $3.4 million.
Included in the number are calculations for Likely To Be Earned bonus balances from 2006 and for 2007, the retirement of Jeff Hartings, future tenders to exclusive-rights and restricted free agents, the expected release (and replacement cost) of Chris Gardocki, $2 million to sign draft picks, players Nos. 52 and 53 (March 2 compliance involves the top 51 salaries on the roster), and the 2007 practice team.
But even though the Steelers have more money than they’ve ever had under the league’s current financial structure, they rank near the bottom of the list.
Only three teams, according to Scout.com, will have less available cap space than the Steelers.
Twelve teams will have more than $20 million to spend, and another nine teams will have at least $12 million. It’s a seller’s market, so don’t expect much participation from the Steelers.
If they do chase a player, and need more cap space, expect them to renegotiate the contracts of Alan Faneca, Aaron Smith and/or Marvel Smith before releasing players such as Porter, Haggans ($2.5 million 2007 salary), Chukky Okobi ($2 million), Cedrick Wilson ($1.9 million), Travis Kirschke ($1.6 million) or Jerame Tuman ($1.2 million). Those players should all be at training camp.