The Pittsburgh Steelers lead the league in money committed to offensive linemen. This is a strategic plan that has paid off, literally.
While the Seattle Seahawks are fielding a line on the cheap, the Steelers will pay their Ben Roethlisberger protectors $28.47 million in cash alone in 2016. If you also prorate those players' signing bonuses -- divide the total bonus by the number of years on the contract -- the total works out to $32.21 million.
About 21 percent of the Steelers’ overall salary cap belongs to tackles and guards and centers. This is a serious investment, but Roethlisberger's sack totals are at career lows (1.66 per game in 2015), and the team can restructure the contracts of veterans if they need additional cap space.
Here’s how the money works this year, compiled with help from ESPN’s Roster Management System.
Center Maurkice Pouncey -- $7 million ($3.5 million base, $3.5 million roster bonus)
Right guard David DeCastro -- $8.07 million (this is a fifth-year option, which the Steelers could void by signing DeCastro to a long-term extension)
Left guard Ramon Foster -- $4.25 million ($1.5 million base, $2.75 million signing bonus signed in 2016)
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert -- $3.95 million (base salary)
Tackle Ryan Harris -- $2 million ($1.325 million base, $675,000 signing bonus signed in 2016)
Center Cody Wallace -- $1.2 million (base salary)
Tackle Mike Adams -- $873,225 (base salary)
Guard Chris Hubbard -- $600,000 (base salary)
Tackle Alejandro Villanueva -- $525,000 (base salary)
TOTAL: $28.47 million committed in 2016
The Steelers turned three high draft picks into three high-level players: DeCastro, Pouncey and Gilbert. They watched the undrafted Foster become a staple option at guard. And while hoping Villanueva eventually develops into a full-time starter, they signed Harris, who has 70-plus career starts, to a two-year deal. Wallace, Adams and Hubbard provide depth.
Of the four Steelers offensive linemen taken in the first or second round from 2010 to 2012, Adams is the only player who hasn't started on a consistent basis.
The guess here is the Steelers would like to employ a similar theme with the secondary -- get several high draft picks that perform well enough to earn extensions.