What Worilds Deal Means
The Steelers traded one gamble for another when they gave linebacker Jason Worilds their transition tag. They went from gambling they would lose him, to gambling they can afford him.
But it also opens up a way for them to release LaMarr Woodley if they so choose. We will get to that below.
With a one-year salary of $9,754,000 on the books for Worilds, the Steelers salary cap for their top 51 player contracts is now estimated to be $144 million and change (thanks to Sportrac.com and OverTheCap.com for many of these figures). Each team’s salary cap has been set at $133 million but teams also can carry over unused cap from last season and for the Steelers that was $1.4 million.
So, they are roughly $10 million over the salary cap on their top 51 contracts, which is all that counts in the offseason. Including all of their players under contract, plus the transition number on Worilds, for 2014, they are about $14 million over the cap for the entire roster. But they only have to be in compliance in the offseason with the top 51. They have until the start of the 2014 regular season to get all of their players under the cap.
So, right now, they must find another $10 million to lop off their salary cap and that won’t be hard.
As we noted, they are working on a restructuring of Heath Miller’s contract, which can only mean they are trying to sign him to an extension. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported yesterday that the deal was done; our sources as of Monday evening say not quite.
There is no way Miller’s agent, Tom Condon, is going to take a one-year reduction in his client’s $6 million base salary without an extension. So they have to be working on an extension that would allow them to reduce his 2014 salary cap hit by reducing his salary and giving him a signing bonus. Bonuses are pro-rated over the life of the contract. Say Miller would take a $1 million salary this year and the Steelers would give him a $9 million bonus spread over, say, three years. That bonus would count $3 million per year, so it would reduce his cap by $2 million this year ($3 million pro-rated bonus plus $1 million salary equals $4 million, replacing his $6 million salary now on the books). That’s not much, but it’s a start.
By Worilds getting the big number, it does not bode well for Ike Taylor one way or another. Taylor is scheduled to make $7 million in this the final year of his contract. He’s not going to get that. They could release him, of course, and save $7 million. But no matter how you think he played last season, they have no depth at cornerback. They could ask him to take $2-$3 million and shave their cap by another $4-5 million. Let’s say Taylor takes the $3 million salary and Miller gets the contract extension I suggested above (merely pulled out of a hat, by the way, with no knowledge of their negotiations with Condon).
Those two things would create $6 million in cap space. Cut tackle Levi Brown and his $6.25 million due this season and that’s $12.25 million. Bang, they are under the cap for next Tuesday before they even get to some of the more difficult decisions.
Among those decisions is what to do with Troy Polamalu’s $8,250,000 salary in his final year (ask him to take a cut? Extend?) and whether to restructure Lawrence Timmons, Ben Roethlisberger (or extend) and Antonio Brown.
Also, they can reduce Jason Worilds current salary cap number of more than $9 million by signing him to a long-term deal. If they, say, give him a $24 million signing bonus on a six-year, $60 million deal, they could give him a $2 million salary this year (with guarantees for a few years) and still reduce his cap by $2-3 million from where it is now for 2014.
There is a lot of room to work there with all of that..
As for Woodley, he counts $13,590,000 against their salary cap this year, including an $8 million salary. If they cut him now, because of the cap rules, all of his pro-rated bonus money would count now. I’ve done the math before, he would count $14.17 million if they cut him now (but wipe him off their books for 2015 and 2016).
However, if they cut him after June 1, he would count only $5.59 million this year (and still be on their books for 2015).
So here is what the Steelers can do: Come to terms on a long-term deal with Worilds, essentially giving him what Woodley would have made, an average of $10 million per year. They could do that and actually lower his current salary cap hit for 2014 of $9,754,00, giving them even more savings.
But remember in all of these moves that would create salary cap room: The Steelers are going to need it. They have essentially no halfbacks behind Le’Veon Bell, no defensive ends other than Cameron Heyward under contract, little depth in the secondary and they need to sign Cotchery and/or another wide receiver.
And while they seem to be OK with their starting offensive line, there is little depth there as well.
It should make for a fun March, which already has come in like a lion with the Worilds deal.