Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown's contract restructure saves $4 million this year, per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, and puts the Steelers under the spending ceiling ahead of the Tuesday deadline for all teams to be in compliance with the salary cap.
The Steelers aren't finished massaging the salary cap since they have to clear enough room under it so they can sign free agents -- their own as well as those from other teams -- and their draft picks.
But there are still a number of ways in which they can create more cap room without significantly shaking up their roster.
Cornerback Ike Taylor's has a base salary of $7 million this year, and the 11th-year veteran will have to take a pay cut to return to the Steelers. The Steelers could also save millions by designating outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley a post-June 1 release and spreading out the dead money in his contract over the next two years.
They will work toward a long-term contract with outside linebacker Jason Worilds, one that would lower his 2014 cap number ($9.754 million). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's cap number ($18.9 million) can also be reduced by signing the 10th-year veteran to a new deal as the Steelers are expected to do at some point.
The timing for a new deal for the Steelers' franchise quarterback couldn't be better with the salary cap expected to rise dramatically in the coming years following a $10 million spike this year.
For an organization that had supposedly been in salary-cap trouble the Steelers continue to show the kind of numbers-crunching dexterity that allows them to turn over their roster without blowing it up.
The Polamalu deal is for $20 million total and saved Pittsburgh $4.5 million against the cap this year, a league source told Schefter.
Miller signed a two-year extension through the 2016 season that will reduce his cap hit for 2014 by more than $3 million, according to multiple reports.
The Steelers had been roughly $15.25 million over the cap after outside linebacker Jason Worilds signed a one-year, $9.75 million contract Tuesday.
Information from ESPN.com's Scott Brown was used in this report.
The Steelers could go a number of different ways with the 15th overall pick, and even if they use it on another position, they will take a safety at some point in the draft.
A potential safety target for the Steelers after the first round is Washington State’s Deone Bucannon.
The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder stood out to ESPN draft analyst Steve Muench when the latter broke down tape of the defensive backs in this year’s draft.
Muench compared Bucannon to 49ers safety Eric Reid, a first-round pick last year who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
Here is what Muench wrote in praising Bucannon’s all-around game:
He has the upper body strength and arm length to play in the box in addition to the closing burst to get downhill when he lines up deep. The occasional missed tackle in space and bad angle show up, but they aren't repetitively glaring issues Bucannon isn't a one-dimensional run stopper either. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine, and it's an accurate reflection of the speed you see on tape. He has the range to play a center fielder-type role over the top and he can run with most slot receivers, let alone tight ends.
His greatest strength may be his ability to change the complexion of a game. He's a turnover machine who intercepted 15 passes and forced seven fumbles in four seasons at Washington State. A heavy hitter, he has the closing burst, ball skills and aggressive nature to continue to make impact plays at the next level.
On the downside, he can get caught out of position biting on play-action or gambling in an effort to make a play. He also has tighter hips that make it tough for him to mirror receivers getting in and out of breaks. He has a similar height-weight-speed ratio to the 49ers' 2013 first-round pick and No. 18 overall, safety Eric Reid out of LSU, but Bucannon's not as fluid.
Muench projects Bucannon as a second-round pick and a player who still should be available when the Steelers make their second pick in the 2014 draft.
Key free agents: WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE Al Woods, DE Brett Keisel, S Ryan Clark, RB Jonathan Dwyer, C Fernando Velasco, OT Guy Whimper, C/G Cody Wallace, TE David Johnson, LB Stevenson Sylvester.
Where they stand: General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers may be more active in free agency than in recent years, but don’t expect their philosophy to fundamentally change. The Steelers will focus on their own players and are likely to sit out the first wave of free agency and target midlevel free agents after the marquee names have signed with other teams. Colbert hinted that the Steelers could try to land a potential starter via free agency, and they could use immediate help as well as depth at just about any position on defense. Nothing would help the Steelers more than if they could sign a free agent who will make an impact like Ryan Clark (2006) or James Farrior (2002) did, though they would have to splurge to get a free agent the caliber of Farrior.
What to expect: Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, the team's top free agent, is going to command more money than the Steelers are willing to pay. He will almost certainly sign elsewhere, though look for veteran Jerricho Cotchery to re-sign with the team after catching 10 touchdown passes last season. Defensive end Ziggy Hood is likely to sign elsewhere, making it imperative that the Steelers bring back Al Woods. They could also re-sign Brett Keisel for one more season if the two sides can find common ground on compensation. The Steelers have a good chance of signing most of their free agents with the exceptions of Sanders and Hood, and that is how they will add depth to their offensive line. Free agents they could target include former Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant, Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown. The Steelers met with former Lions safety Louis Delmas last month, but his knee issues may be too much of a red flag for them, and they have since re-signed veteran Will Allen.
Among the more than 23,000 people who voted earlier this week on whether the Steelers should release Polamalu or retain the eight-time Pro Bowler, 39 percent opted for the team cutting ties with him. More telling is 76 percent of more than 31,000 voters in a different poll think that Polamalu will play at an elite level for one more season at most with half of those saying Polamalu is no longer a premier player.
Steelers president Art Rooney II made no secret of his desire for Polamalu to play his entire career in Pittsburgh, and that surely contributed to the new contract that will likely make that happen.
But much more than nostalgia drove the deal between the Steelers and one of the most iconic players in their illustrious history.
Polamalu signed a cap-friendly contract that allowed the Steelers to lower his cap number by $4.5 million in 2014, according to ESPN roster management, without saddling them with much onus should they part ways with him after next season.
The Steelers are only on the hook for $4.5 million in salary-cap money -- Polamalu's signing bonus of $6.75 million is spread out over the life of the three-year contract -- if he doesn't play in Pittsburgh beyond 2014.
Aside from the financial ramifications of the deal, the Steelers had to bring Polamalu back for at least one more season. With the team unlikely to re-sign Ryan Clark, there is no way that the Steelers could into next season with two new starting safeties, especially if one of them is second-year man Shamarko Thomas.
And yes, Polamalu turns 33 next month, but he has tapped into something with a training regimen that allowed him to hold up remarkably well last season.
Polamalu played every snap in 2013 after missing nine games the previous season because of a recurring calf injury. A significant number of those snaps came at inside linebacker, which Polamalu played when the Steelers used six defensive backs.
Polamalu may have lost a step and is susceptible in coverage, particularly against good quarterbacks who exploit his propensity to gamble. But he has never been an Ed Reed-type safety anyway.
Polamalu remains what he has always been at his core: a playmaker who always seems to be around the ball.
He recorded 85 tackles last season, and his five forced fumbles were only two less than what he produced in his first 10 NFL seasons. Polamalu also intercepted a pair of passes, returning one of them for a touchdown.
Given his willingness to accept a contract that helps the team now and doesn't hamstring it in future years as well as his value to a defense that needs all of the playmakers it can get, it turned out to be a no-brainer for the Steelers to re-sign Polamalu.
Here are the 10 picks at No. 15 that I have already reviewed:
2013: Kenny Vaccaro, S, Saints
2012: Bruce Irvin, DE, Seahawks
2011: Mike Pouncey, C, Dolphins
2010: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, Giants
2009: Brian Cushing, LB, Texans
2008: Branden Albert, OT. Chiefs
2007: Lawrence Timmons, LB, Steelers
2006: Tye Hill, CB, Rams
2005: Derrick Johnson, LB, Chiefs
2004: Michael Clayton, WR, Buccaneers
Here are the five picks that preceded those players at No. 15 overall:
2003 -- Jerome McDougle, DE, Eagles: Injuries sabotaged McDougle's career as he just couldn’t stay healthy. A shooting right before his third training camp with the Eagles cost McDougle the entire 2005 season. He registered just three sacks in four seasons with the Eagles, making this pick a miss albeit one in which injuries played a significant role.
2002 -- Albert Haynesworth, DT, Titans: Tennessee got its money's worth out of the mammoth tackle as he may have been the most disruptive defensive player in the NFL in 2007 and 2008. Haynesworth didn't acquire the bust label until he signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Redskins in 2009 and never came close to giving Washington the desired return on its ill-fated investment.
2001 -- Rod Gardner, WR, Redskins: The former Clemson star had a couple of monster games while with the Redskins, and he had over 1,000 yards receiving in just his second season. Gardner, however, played just four seasons in Washington and two more (with three different teams) after the Redskins parted ways with him. This pick turned out to be a miss, especially since wide receiver Reggie Wayne got drafted near the end of the first round that year.
2000 -- Deltha O'Neal, CB, Broncos: The speedy O'Neal intercepted nine passes his second season, earning All-Pro honors as well as a trip to the Pro Bowl. He and the Broncos had a falling out, and they packaged him in a 2004 trade in which they swapped first-round draft picks with the Bengals. O'Neal recorded 10 interceptions for the Bengals in 2005, setting a franchise record. It’s hard to call this pick a hit or a miss though it's probably more of the former given O'Neal's body of work.
1999 -- Anthony McFarland, DT, Buccaneers: Warren Sapp got more accolades but McFarland also played a pivotal role on the defenses that fueled Tampa Bay’s rise. McFarland, who had a career-high 6.5 sacks his second season, won a Super Bowl ring with the Buccaneers in 2002. The player known as "Booger" played eight seasons for Tampa Bay, and helped the Buccaneers regularly control the line of scrimmage, making this pick a hit.
The consensus is that Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the top two safety prospects in the draft, and ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Steelers taking Clinton-Dix in his third mock draft, which was unveiled Thursday.
McShay had the Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in his two previous mock drafts, including one right after the NFL scouting combine. He now has the Steelers addressing their secondary with the 15th overall pick, and here is what he wrote:
"I think Pittsburgh’s priorities should be to get younger on defense and upgrade the offensive line, but in this scenario there isn’t a tackle who really justifies a top-15 pick (although Zack Martin at least merits consideration). If they trade back, nose tackle Louis Nix III could be an option, but I have enough concerns about his 2013 performance that I don’t think he’d go off the board this early. So I think this pick comes down to the best available secondary player, and Clinton-Dix is a playmaker at the safety position, with really good range."
What is interesting in regard to Nix is the one time the Steelers have traded down in the first round since Kevin Colbert joined the organization in 2000 happened in 2001. The Steelers moved from No. 16 to No. 19, swapping places with the Jets while also receiving fourth- and sixth-round picks from New York.
They used that pick on nose tackle and hit big, literally and figuratively, on Casey Hampton. Nix has been linked to the Steelers because of the perceived need for a successor to Hampton, who was not re-signed after the 2012 season.
Also noteworthy from McShay’s latest mock draft is he has the Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans 10th overall and Pryor going to the Rams with the 13th pick in the draft.
McShay has the Bears, who pick one spot ahead of the Steelers taking Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He also has five cornerbacks going in the first round with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert coming off the board at No. 8 to the Vikings.
McShay has a run on cornerback starting with the Cardinals taking Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard at No. 20. The other cornerbacks going in the first round of McShay’s mock draft are Ohio State’s Bradley Roby (Eagles), Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller (Bengals) and TCU’s Jason Verrett (Chargers).
The Steelers covet size and length at cornerback and need help here as well. Pittsburgh also could really use a young pass-catcher with size and it appears unlikely that they would pass on Mike Evans, although he seems unlikely to be available. A young athletic tight end could be another option as a successor and compliment to Heath Miller, but overall, this will be a heavy defensive draft for the Steelers.
Whom does McShay have the Steelers drafting at No. 15? Let's take a look:
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Then they slapped the transition tag on outside linebacker Jason Worilds Monday afternoon, just ahead of the 4 p.m. deadline to tag players. There has been a steady stream of activity since then, starting with Worilds signing the one-year, $9.754 million contract that came with the transition tag.
In the past two days the Steelers have signed four players -- they had yet to announce the Will Allen signing as of early Thursday morning -- and released three, including veteran linebacker Larry Foote.
Forget the first week of free agency -- players are allowed to start signing with new teams Tuesday at 4 p.m. -- when the NFL is abuzz with visits and player movement. The busy time for the Steelers when it comes to turning over and shaping their roster is often the week leading up to the start of free agency, and this year is no exception.
The Steelers already have made a flurry of moves, and more are coming as they try to clear enough room under the salary cap -- it will be $133 million in 2014 -- to sign free agents as well as their draft picks.
They are off to a good start as they have retained strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller as well as their top pending free agent (Worilds) without compromising the core of their team or their finances.
The Steelers, according to ESPN's Roster Management System, are a shade over $133 million in regard to the salary cap, though that total doesn’t include Allen’s new deal because Pittsburgh has yet to make that official.
Allen likely signed for the veteran’s minimum ($955,000), a figure that can be reduced to a cap hit of $570,000 plus his signing bonus if it is a one-year contract and the bonus does not exceed $65,000.
However the numbers are crunched, the Steelers are almost in compliance with the 2014 salary cap, and they have gotten to that point without having to make any really tough cuts. More difficult decisions loom as they clear room under the 2014 cap, but so far, so good for the Steelers.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay will be unveiling his third mock draft later today.
Here are links to a couple of more mock drafts. Both Pete Prisco of CBS Sports and Doug Farrar of SI.com have the Steelers addressing the secondary with their first-round pick in May.
General manager Kevin Colbert said recently rebuilding will never be acceptable to the Steelers.
The organization has provided more than lip service to that credo after a quiet couple of weeks.
The Steelers, who are trying to rebound from consecutive 8-8 seasons, have added and subtracted from their salary cap in the last two days. In the process they have kept their financial situation tenable while also keeping franchise cornerstones in Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller along with one of their best young defensive players in Jason Worilds.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported the Steelers saved $4.5 in salary cap money in 2014 with the three-year, $20 million contract that Polamalu signed.
Assuming they got a similar salary-cap return on the three-year contact that Miller also signed on Wednesday then those two deals essentially offset the one-year, $9.75 million contact that Worilds signed on Tuesday, a day after the Steelers slapped a transition tag on the fourth-year veteran.
If that is the case the Steelers are only around $5.5 million over the cap and they have until Tuesday to get in compliance with the 2014 spending ceiling.
That is a small figure, especially considering the Steelers can easily get under the cap with a couple of moves.
They will clear $6.25 million in cap room by releasing offensive Levi Brown, who got hurt before playing a down for the Steelers following an in-season trade. They can save $7 million by releasing Ike Taylor or getting the veteran cornerback to accept a significant paycut.
There are several other contracts that can be restructured, and more salary-cap savings can be generated by signing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a new contract.
The Steelers’ salary-cap situation is frequently portrayed as dire. But in the last two days they have kept their top free-agent from hitting the open market next week while also retaining two veterans who are still vital players for them.
They still have a salary cap situation that is more than manageable with time and flexibility to get under the 2014 spending limit.
Salary cap woes?
Not so much for the Steelers.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' salary-cap situation did not cost a couple of veteran players their roster spots. It actually led to contract extensions for each.
Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller signed three-year contracts Wednesday, securing their foreseeable futures in Pittsburgh while also helping the Steelers shed salary in regard to the 2014 cap.
The Polamalu deal is for $20 million total and saves Pittsburgh $4.5 million against the cap this year, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Polamalu reacted to the deal via Twitter:
I am thankful and blessed to be in a position to play my entire career in Pittsburgh
- Troy Polamalu (@tpolamalu) March 5, 2014
Miller signed a two-year extension through the 2016 season that will reduce his cap hit for 2014 by more than $3 million, according to multiple reports.
Polamalu and Miller each was entering the final year of his contract with respective cap hits of $10.89 million and $6.14 million, according to ESPN roster management.
The Steelers were roughly $15.25 million over the cap after outside linebacker Jason Worilds signed a one-year, $9.75 million contract Tuesday.
Polamalu, who turns 33 next month, played every snap last season and was voted to his eighth Pro Bowl after recording 85 tackles, intercepting two passes and forcing five fumbles.
Allen resuscitated his career in Pittsburgh last season after Dallas released him, and he provides a bit of a safety net in the secondary with the Steelers unlikely to re-sign Ryan Clark.
Allen worked his way into the role of third safety after returning to the Steelers, and he played extensively in the quarter package. His signing follows a report by ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter that the Steelers won't consider releasing Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu as they work to get in compliance with the salary cap.
Allen recorded 42 tackles in 12 games last season, and his interception in a November game against the Lions helped preserve Pittsburgh’s 37-27 win over Detroit.
The 10th-year veteran is also a core special teams players providing the Steelers value on another front.
Shamarko Thomas, whom Allen supplanted in the quarter package last season, could get the first crack at replacing Clark, who has started at free safety since 2006. He and Allen could share time at the position, and the Steelers are expected to draft at least one safety they can develop.
Allen is the second impending free agent to re-sign with Pittsburgh.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds signed a one-year, $9.54 million contract on Tuesday, one day after the Steelers placed the transition tag on the fourth-year veteran.
One source said the Rooney family is loyal to Polamalu and that he has been too valuable to the franchise to let go. The sides will try to work out a restructured contract that will lower Polamalu's $10.88 million cap figure for the coming season, or the Steelers could get the eight-time Pro Bowler to accept a pay cut.
Polamalu, who turns 33 next month, played every snap last season and recorded 85 tackles, intercepted two passes and forced five fumbles.
A 12-year veteran, Polamalu has 710 tackles, 32 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles with the Steelers. He won The Associated Press' defensive player of the year award in 2010.
After signing outside linebacker Jason Worilds to a one-year, $9.75 million transition tender Tuesday, the Steelers are $15.5 million over the cap, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and they have some work to do to get in compliance with the cap before next Tuesday.
Polamalu, who has long been one of the faces of the franchise, told ESPN.com last December he plans to honor his contract, which has one year left. Steelers president Art Rooney II said during a conference call with season-ticket holders in February that he wants Polamalu to retire a Steeler.
ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter and ESPN.com Steelers reporter Scott Brown contributed to this report.