ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton recently wrote an insightful piece updating the projected salary-cap figures for NFL teams. One note that stood out in the AFC North is that the reigning division champion Pittsburgh Steelers are projected to be more than $10.51 million over the cap.
That means Pittsburgh has plenty of work to do this summer. But fear not, Steeler Nation. The AFC North blog has provided Pittsburgh an easy-to-follow guide for cap relief.
Step No. 1: Release OT Flozell Adams
Analysis: Adams quickly acclimated himself in the Steelers’ locker room and filled in admirably last season. But he makes $5 million in 2011. Releasing Adams alone would get the Steelers halfway to being under the cap. Maybe the Steelers can re-sign him at a lesser number later, but Adams is not irreplaceable. The Steelers drafted offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert in the second round and also could look for a vet in free agency. But if the Steelers can convince Adams to return for, say, $2 million next season, that makes sense for both sides.
Step No. 2: Release WR Antwaan Randle El
Analysis: Randle El signed a three-year, $7 million contract last season but had a subpar 2010 campaign. He was eventually beat out by rookie receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, who are both younger and more athletic. Now Randle El is fifth on the depth chart. He's a good locker-room presence and plays hard, but cutting Randle El makes business sense.
Step No. 3: Restructure DE Aaron Smith's contract
Skinny: Smith is a great leader and presence in Pittsburgh's locker room. He's also a good player when healthy, but season-ending injuries are taking a toll on the 35-year-old defensive end. Smith is on the books for $4.5 million in the final year of his contract. But you don't just cut a leader and career Steeler like Smith. So asking him to restructure and perhaps save $2 million makes sense. Smith has been an excellent mentor to Ziggy Hood and could be to rookie Cameron Heyward in what could be Smith's final season.
Step No. 4: Release WR Limas Sweed
Skinny: The Steelers have held onto the former second-round pick for three seasons, but both sides should probably go their separate ways. Sweed displayed several flashes but dropped balls in big spots and could never recover. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and enters the final year of a four-year, $3.3 million deal. Similar to Randle El, Sweed would probably be the fifth receiver on Pittsburgh’s depth chart if he stayed. Sweed needs a fresh start and the Steelers need the cap room.
Step No. 5: Sign LaMarr Woodley to a long-term deal
Skinny: Woodley received the franchise tag for a one-year deal worth $10.2 million in February. Woodley, who made just $550,00 last season, is very happy with that amount. But players would prefer long-term security. Woodley, 26, is eating up a huge chunk of this year's cap, and that number could be lowered if the Steelers reach a long-term agreement before the start of the season. That way, both sides would benefit.
If the Steelers follow these five steps, they will be back under the salary cap and ready to make a push for a corner in free agency. None of these decisions are easy, but that's the harsh reality of the NFL.