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Steelers more willing than most to push cap space into future

Mike Tomlin AP

The Steelers finally drew a line in the sand Saturday, and released outside linebacker James Harrison when he became too expensive.

But over the past few years, they’ve stretched out a number of contracts, willing to push money onto future caps to keep a core of players together.

According to Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, the Steelers have restructured 13 deals since the lockout ended in August 2011, pushing $54.7 million onto future salary cap ledgers.

During that span, they’ve adjusted the deals of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times, linebacker Lawrence Timmons twice; and once each for Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Chris Kemoeatu, Harrison, Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley, Ike Taylor and Willie Colon once.

That works, as long as the group of players they’ve chosen produce together. But there’s an inherent risk as well, as it creates a top-heavy roster that’s hard to fix if a bad thing happens, especially with the salary cap flattening in the post-lockout world.

“They are trying to get as much flexibility as they can during the transition years,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts. “(The fact that) they are engaging in this more than they have in the past is attributable to adjustments to the … cap.”

Playing kick-the-can with the salary cap can lead to a disaster at some point. But the Steelers are able to get away with this institutionally for two main reasons.

One, they have a quarterback in Roethlisberger who is good enough to raise a team a level, from average to good or good to great.

Secondly, they have scouted and drafted well enough to have star players and also find contributors deep in drafts to replace players when they get too expensive.

If a Jason Worilds can replace Harrison’s production (as Harrison did when he replaced Joey Porter), and Roethlisberger never gets hurt again, it’s a system that can work, considering they have an excellent coach and general manager.

But it does leave one of the league’s most stable franchise vulnerable to the one thing even the smartest team can’t account for — bad luck.

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17 Responses to “Steelers more willing than most to push cap space into future”
  1. patfanken says: Mar 10, 2013 11:39 AM

    The problem with the Steeler’s strategy is that you leave yourselves open to injuries. The Pats in the late 90’s had great front line talent, but when they had injuries there was only bottom of the roster talent to fill in. The end result is called the “Carroll Years” in NE. The first thing BB had to do when he became coach was clean up the cap and the end result of that season was 5-11.

    There is no question that you can delay the inevitable, The Jets did it for several years, before the cap became an issue for them the last 3 years, with them hitting rock bottom this season.

    Maybe the Steelers want to maximize Ben’s final prime years. You usually can stave things off for about 3 years. And in the NFL, 3 years is a lifetime. There are certainly long term consequences, but who knows if this isn’t the best way for the Steelers to go.

  2. Iknoweverything says: Mar 10, 2013 12:05 PM

    Steelers are done. Not sniffing a Super Bowl for at least a dozen years.

    Bad salary cap strategy. Bad personnel moves

  3. tedmurph says: Mar 10, 2013 12:13 PM

    You can get away with that stategy when the cap goes up, but it’s a lot harder when the cap is flat. Also, you have to be lucky with injuries and draft well. Over the years the Steelers have had some tremendous drafts, but 2008-11, the drafts that should be the core of the team, haven’t produced much. Wallace(who’s gone), ABrown and Pouncey are the only top of the line players. Even the 2012 draft, though it’s early, doesn’t look like much after DeCastro. This team’s in trouble.

  4. bigbenownsthenfl says: Mar 10, 2013 12:17 PM

    Gotta do it now. Big Ben is a franchise QB with 2 SB rings. He’s got 4 years left. After that the Steelers will have some Neil O’Donnell type QB or kordell Stewart. Then we will be truly in dire straits. A QB like Ben doesn’t happen often in Pittsburgh. So we got 1 now. Mine as well maximize now and suffer later! Genius move. I like it a lot..

  5. ravenator says: Mar 10, 2013 12:23 PM

    Good strategy Steelers. I wonder if it pays off.

  6. nfl4days says: Mar 10, 2013 12:31 PM

    I just cant see the steelers having any kind of success in the next few years. No Cap apsce for free agents, a weak draft for offense other than o-line, cutting iconic veterans, losing weapons, no running game, old secondary, and everyone gets injured all the time. It just seems like the best option is clean house and rebuild right away.

  7. motobus says: Mar 10, 2013 12:56 PM

    You only run into a problem if at one point you are no longer able to continue to push the cap into future years. There are always future years.

  8. Nofoolnodrool says: Mar 10, 2013 12:56 PM

    This strategy has worked very well in producing three SB appearances since 2000. So if a homer were to consider facts and not feelings they would realize that on their own. However, I will say the new bargaining agreement may change this in the future as will the growth/ or lack their of in the cap level.

  9. thestrategyexpert says: Mar 10, 2013 2:26 PM

    The Steelers strategy sounds like an inevitable disaster. The only question is how soon?

  10. sandy102270 says: Mar 10, 2013 2:51 PM

    This is exactly why they got Tebowed in 2011 and fell apart last year. They didn’t have enough depth to compensate for the injured, high salary stars.

    The future doesn’t look good either if they insist on continuing with their robbing Peter to pay Paul cap strategy.

    The only saving grace for them is that the Browns are perpetually starting over and the Bengals are too cheap to keep a core group together for any length of time, or they would have no hope at all in their division.

    I see no reason to believe that the Ravens won’t be the standard in the AFCN for the next several years.

  11. sallust99 says: Mar 10, 2013 4:38 PM

    You Steelers’ haters and questioners are sad. You don’t go to 15 conf championship games, 8 Super Bowls and win 6 by accident. Facts are stubborn things.

    We will be fine and you should be worried.

    We were best tem of 1970s, competitive for half of the 80s, one of the top teams of the 90s, and second only to Pats since 2000.

    So do me and the rest of us a favor, try to think before you type – novel concept to most of you I know.

  12. blackngold4life says: Mar 10, 2013 5:09 PM

    Bengals N Browns getting better..the Steelers are content being Status Quo..Don’t wana hear that BS about “Its workd Fine” either we haven’t improved at ANY position in years..Not 1. So take off ya blinders and call it for what it is..Bad Business. Would you keep re-financing your home knowing you had no way to pay for it later? Lol you probably would if you say there’s nothing wrong with the way the Steelers work..while everybody else’s house in your neighborhood is gettin modified and fixd up you in the same Ole house with the chipped paint and crab grass in ya front yard.

  13. tedmurph says: Mar 10, 2013 5:55 PM

    No sallust99, it’s not fine and, being a Pats fan, I’m not worried. Steelers are gonna be out of the mix for a couple of yrs due to poor drafting, overpaying players, poor cap mgt and hanging on to veterans too long. Very nice you remember the history of the blessed franchise during the 70’s. During the 80’s they won more than 9 games once(10). Those are the facts. YOU should be worried. Think about that before you condescend.

  14. clashpoint says: Mar 10, 2013 8:16 PM

    Many people are saying they have drafted poorly, and I don’t think thats the case at all. With the exceptions of Ben and possibly one guard spot, every player on offense that starts will be 4 years or less. Two young #1 picks (pouncy and decastro) and two #2 picks (adams and gilbert) on the line, plus another two year guy if beachum starts to. Then two 4th years guys and 3rd and 4th round picks at wr (sanders and brown), a two year guy at te until heath miller comes back, and dwyer/redman/batch at rb, all of whom are 4th year or less.

    On d, there is good depth at corner (taylor, gay, allen, brown, van dyke, victorian and hopefully lewis) for the #1 ranked pass defense. Except for van dyke, all home grown, and except for taylor, all young. Except for foote, keisel and hampton (who is likely gone) the front seven is all young and home grown. We shall see for sure this year just how well they have cultivated their young talent, but the Steelers are no longer an old team.

  15. sallust99 says: Mar 10, 2013 9:50 PM

    We have gone to the AFC champ game every decade since 1970s. Again, facts are stubborn things tecmurph. It’s not an accident. Everyone has down years, we just don’t have down decades like almost every other team in league

  16. mysterytonite says: Mar 11, 2013 1:28 AM

    The Steelers had a football team and fans in the 80’s? Thats news to me. They were over 500 once in the decade.

  17. sallust99 says: Mar 11, 2013 3:36 PM

    6 Lombardis and down to the final four teams in the league the following years:

    1972
    1974
    1975
    1976
    1978
    1979
    1984
    1994
    1995
    1997
    2001
    2004
    2005
    2008
    2010

    Again, facts are stubborn things.

    Who has had more sucess than that?

    The answer is no one.

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