Robinson: Steelers' dollars go to defense
James Harrison and Troy Polamalu are the faces of the Steelers' defense, a pair of well-known and well-paid players who have 12 Pro Bowl appearances, three Super Bowl trips and two Defensive Player of the Year awards between them.
They're also the primary reason the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense is one of the NFL's best-compensated.
The offense? With the exception of Ben Roethlisberger, they're the guys who are hoping they don't get stuck with the check at the team dinner.
While most NFL teams devote roughly an equal amount of salary cap space to their offense and defense, the Steelers spent nearly twice as much on defense ($57.7 million) as they did offense ($30.3 million, or about half of what the Bears paid).
Only the Colts — who spent a league-low $22.7 million on offense — had a similar disparity, according to spotrac.com, a sports contract website.
Roethlisberger accounted for almost half of the offense's compensation — $9,895,000, based on his $900,000 salary and various prorated bonuses, including the prorated signing bonus from his $102 million contract.
If that sounds a bit skewed, it's not. The AFC top-seeded Broncos spent $41 million on just three players (Peyton Manning, Elvis Dumervil and Champ Bailey), yet they could do so because they rolled over $26 million of previously unused cap space into this season.
Why are the Colts' offensive salaries so low, especially for a playoff team? They paid a massive $38.6 million, or about one-third of their $121 million cap space, to players no longer with the team, including Manning, who still counts $10.4 million against their cap. Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney counts $19 million, the most of any player.
The Steelers devoted $10 million of cap room to players who didn't wear their uniform in 2012 — even the bumblebee one. Much of that went to former lineman Chris Kemoeatu ($2.869 million), Hines Ward ($1.2 million) and James Farrior ($1 million).
And former Southern Illinois quarterback Chris Dieker, who spent about two weeks in the 2011 training camp? He cost $667 of cap space.
Of the 10 Steelers who counted the most against the cap, only two are on offense: Roethlisberger and No. 10 Rashard Mendenhall ($3.049 million). Numbers 2-8 are defensive players: Polamalu, Harrison, Casey Hampton, LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel, Ryan Clark, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote.
Polamalu accounted for $9.1 million of cap room, Harrison for $9 million. No one else except Hampton ($4.967 million) counted for even half of what Roethlisberger, Polamalu or Harrison did.
On defense, the Steelers spent $24.1 million for linebackers (second most to the Jets' $27.2 million), $19.7 million on the secondary and $13.8 million on linemen. On offense, they devoted $11 million to quarterbacks (compared to the Broncos' $19.6 million), $5 million to running backs, $5.4 million to wide receivers, $1.3 million to tight ends and $7.6 million to linemen.
Only the Bills spent less on their offensive line, but the Steelers have a number of young linemen who are still on their first contracts and aren't making even $1 million per season.
Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @arobinson_Trib.
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