We fired up the Steelers mailbag this week, prompting this question from @letanglambert58:
Who will actually get contract extension this summer?
— james eathorne (@letanglambert58) June 9, 2017
James, running back Le'Veon Bell is a prime candidate to become the first of up to three Steelers to be extended between now and the Sept. 10 opener at Cleveland.
Here's why Bell might be first: Deadlines create momentum, and the July 15 franchise tag deadline will push both sides to get something done.
But the wild card is Villanueva, who participated in organized team activities without a contract, opting not to sign his exclusive rights tender of $615,000 in hopes of getting an extension. The team holds his rights for the next two years. Villanueva's murky situation could prompt movement from Pittsburgh, but training camp is really his deadline. Players report July 27, and Villanueva can't participate without a contract. Perhaps that gives Villanueva an advantage.
Tuitt's deal might come last, but he's a priority. The Steelers can let his negotiations bleed into August if necessary.
The Steelers don't have to re-sign all three players, but they have the flexibility to do so. The team has about $18.6 million in salary-cap space, according to ESPN's roster management system. That number includes Bell's $12.1 million franchise tag.
Let's say the numbers came in like this (figures are just a reference point):
* Bell: Five years, $50 million ($8 million in the first year to lessen the cap hit by $4 million)
* Tuitt: Four years, $44 million ($8 million in the first year with the signing bonus spread out over time)
* Villanueva: Four years, $32 million ($7 million in first year)
Tuitt and Villanueva would force a cap hit of around $13 million, but Bell would save the Steelers $4 million, resulting in a cap drop from $18 million to $9 million before finalizing a deal for first-round pick T.J. Watt.
That's a lot of coin, but doable.