Steelers, Ravens differ on using this tactic

The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers like to build their teams through the draft and don't spend money on big-name free agents. The one practice where they differ is restructuring contracts.

Over the past two years, the Ravens have reworked two contracts. The Steelers restructured five last year (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, linebackers LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, cornerback Ike Taylor and offensive lineman Willie Colon) and will restructure at least two (Roethlisberger and Timmons) this year. Woodley is another candidate to do it again this year.

Restructuring contracts doesn't affect the money or length of the deal but gives the Steelers some much-needed cap relief by spreading the cap hit over future seasons. The problem comes when teams have to deal with bloated cap numbers in those seasons. As a result, six players on the Steelers (Roethlisberger, Woodley, Timmons, Taylor, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Harrison) accounted for 60 percent of Pittsburgh's salary cap in 2013 before the latest round of restructuring.

The Ravens will be over the salary cap if they have to put the franchise tag on quarterback Joe Flacco next month. Baltimore could restructure the contracts of linebacker Terrell Suggs ($13 million cap number) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata ($11.5 million) to help get under the cap. But Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month that restructuring contracts is "a last resort" for Baltimore.

"The only time we consider restructuring guys’ deals is [if] there is a player that comes available that we think has great value and is worth us restructuring a deal to get it done," Newsome said. "But it has to be a player that we think has a pretty good chance of playing out his contract because that’s when you get in trouble. If you restructure a deal, then all the sudden that player’s abilities fall off the cliff and you have to let him go, then you have to eat all that acceleration right away."

Restructuring, however, could become part of the Ravens' future. It seems that most teams with franchise quarterbacks have to rework deals in order to fit their big deals under the cap every season. Roethlisberger has restructured his contract for the past three years. Tom Brady and Eli Manning both reworked their deals last year. There's talk that Drew Brees might have to restructure this offseason, just one year after signing his five-year, $100 million deal. So signing Flacco to a long-term deal could force the Ravens into some creative accounting going forward.