Salary cap space
As of March 17, 2021, the Steelers are projected to have $5,657,086 in cap space for 2021.
The Steelers rolled over $5 million in 2020 cap space.
March 10 update: The salary cap has been set at $182.5 million.
The Pittsburgh Steelers saw a disappointing end to the 2020 NFL Season after a loss at home in the Wild Card round to their divisional rivals. Despite their 11-0 start, the team struggled to generate offense as they closed out the season averaging just 19.6 points per game in their final six games.
Ultimately their hot start but slow finish has led to the 24th overall draft spot — a later pick than they’d like considering their need to look for the quarterback of the future partnered with a dastardly cap situation. The Steelers current roster projects at $21 million over the salary cap next season, with QB Ben Roethlisberger delivering a $41.25 million blow to the team’s cap space in 2021.
The NFL powered through its 2020 season amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The league played without fans in most stadiums, and limited fans in a handful of locations. The decrease in gate revenue is going to result in a decrease in money shared between the 32 teams. This in turn means the salary cap is expected to decrease. The NFL and NFLPA agreed to a salary cap of no lower than $175 million. The latest report has the number landing between $180 and $181 million, which is a good bit lower than the $198.2 million of this past season. This will result in some tough choices for many teams.
All salary cap information below comes courtesy of the NFLPA Public Salary Cap Report.
To put it lightly, the Steelers are in “Salary cap hell” for the 2021 season. 38 year old QB Ben Roethlisberger accounts for 22.79% of the team’s cap space in the season to come — a hit of $41,250,000 million. In his return from an elbow injury that ended his 2019 season, Roethlisberger ranked 32nd out of 36 quarterbacks (min. 200 dropbacks) in average depth of target, with the 16th most passing yards despite the third-most pass attempts on the season. The rumor mill has speculated that the veteran QB could potentially retire ahead of next season. If he does, the Steelers will still carry $22.25 million in dead cap.
The Steelers will need to find some money soon, though, and fast, with a number of key offensive and defensive pieces set to hit free agency in 2021. Potential offseason losses include LB Bud Dupree (franchise tagged in 2020), tackles Alejandro Villanueva, Matt Feiler, and Zach Banner, DB Mike Hilton, RB James Conner, and WR JuJu Smith-Schuster.
In 2022, the list of pending free agents doesn’t get much better. Defensive superstar T.J. Watt will be in the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, and Minkah Fitzpatrick will look to nab a fifth-year extension. Vince Williams will hit free agency, too, alongside former first-round pick Terrell Edmunds, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson, and offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncy and David DeCastro. Simply put, there are too many assets in need of a payday in the coming seasons, and the Steelers don’t have the money to do it... yet.
At first glance, if the Steelers are looking to make another run with Roethlisberger under center in 2021, there aren’t many obvious choices for cap casualties without a decent hit to the depth of their offense or defense. If Roethlisberger retires, the team will save $19 million, but unfortunately, they’re still stuck in salary cap hell, regardless.