The Salary Cap
Every year NFL teams are forced to say goodbye to players they would like to keep around because they just don’t have the salary-cap space to re-sign them. Pittsburgh is no exception and 2021 could be a tough year for the Steelers. Right now, given the Salary Cap for 2021, the Steelers are going to go into the off-season $18 million into the red. That means to even be able to re-sign any free agents, such as Bud Dupree, they are going to have to make room under the cap.
To manipulate the salary cap the Steelers have spent years restructuring large contracts. By restructuring a contract a player is able to turn salary into a bonus. That bonus is then prorated over the remaining years of the contract. This process lowers that year’s salary cap hit, but it also increases future years.
Restructuring Ben Roethlisberger’s contract over the years now means that his cap hit for 2021 is over $40 million. These restructured contracts result in Roethlisberger accounting for over 20% of the Steelers cap room next season. So, the Steelers will have to get very creative with their salary cap in 2021, but it also means that some of their 15 Unrestricted Free Agents will likely become Salary Cap Casualties and are unlikely to return next season.
This is Part 4 of a multi-part series on possible cap casualties for the 2021 season.
Part 4 – Outside Linebacker Bud Dupree
The Steelers are going to be $18 million over the cap at the start of the off-season. They will also have all of the following players as free agents. This might be a tough off-season in terms of finances.
Bud Dupree, Alejandro Villanueva, Vance McDonald, Matt Feiler, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, James Conner, Tyson Alualu, and Juju Smith-Schuster are all impending free agents. Those are also only the big-name free agents.
Dupree is playing right now on the franchise tag. Tagging him again, is likely, out of the question. It would result in such a large-cap hit that the Steelers would have a hard time fitting it under the cap for 2021.
That doesn’t mean they can’t sign him to a long-term deal. It does, however, still leave the question of whether or not they can come to an agreement on a deal that would work out for the Steeles financially and fit what Dupree is looking for in his next contract.
Sure, Dupree and TJ Watt form one of the best pass-rushing duos in the NFL. The Steelers would no doubt love to keep them together long-term, but doing so may prove troublesome. One problem in developing great players is that you can’t always keep them all in town. Over the years the Steelers have watched outside linebackers leave town for new contracts.
That includes players who were still productive like Chad Brown, Joey Porter, Lamarr Woodley, and James Harrison. So, although it would be hard to see Dupree leave Pittsburgh, it isn’t out of the question.
So far this season the Steelers have been giving plenty of playing time to Alex Highsmith and Ola Adeniyi. Highsmith, the team’s third-round pick, and Adeniyi are young outside linebackers who have shown a lot of promise.
How those two players play during the remainder of the 2020 season could have a huge impact on the Steelers’ determination of what to do with Dupree this off-season.
With TJ Watt also soon to hit free agency, if he doesn’t sign a long-term deal, the Steelers may have to be smart with this move. I for one see the Steelers focusing their future funds on locking up Watt. That could mean the end of Dupree’s run in Pittsburgh.
Final Verdict – The Steelers’ financial situation forces them to let Dupree walk this off-season. He signs a huge deal elsewhere and the team makes sure to sign Watt to a long-term deal this off-season so that he never comes close to free agency.