The Steelers went through a dramatic purge last year, having the get rid of older starters just to comply with the salary cap.
Things are going to be tight again this year, which has already raised the specter of more cuts, but general manager Kevin Colbert said the challenge is keeping the team sustainable.
“Last year, we let go of significant players,” Colbert told the NFL Network’s Albert Breer. “This year, that may or may not be the case. We never want to be in a position where we have to gut the team. We want to compete every year. And this year, we weren’t able to. We didn’t get in the playoffs. And that was a failure.
“But we want to avoid being in a position where we make that one-year, all-in run, then disappear.”
Last year, they cut James Farrior, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith and Chris Kemoeatu, and they all retired. This year, they have $100 million worth of a projected $121 salary cap invested in 10 players, which could make for some tough decisions.
Linebacker James Harrison’s already put out word he’s not taking a pay cut. And while safety Troy Polamalu might have more good football left in him, he didn’t play last season to a level worth a $10 million number.
They’re not the only ones in this situation, but they have to deal with a top-heavy roster and a flat cap.
“We’ve always tried to do things that made sense for the current year, but also do things that wouldn’t strangle you financially in the future,” Colbert said. “It’s no different this time. We’re getting in compliance. We’re gonna have to have some terminations, some extensions, some restructurings. Figuring out the combination of all that, that’s what we’re doing now. We don’t have to be compliant until March 12, so we have some time.”
With a significant free agent list (Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall, Casey Hampton, Keenan Lewis), and upgrades needed, the Steelers need to count on their homegrown players to step into larger roles if they are to improve on last year’s record.