Steelers GM Colbert: Salary cap situation 'pretty good'
The Steelers have never been a team that pursued high-priced and high-end players in free agency — never have and never will.
This year will be the same but not because the Steelers can't scrounge up the resources to do so.
General manager Kevin Colbert on Tuesday said the Steelers' salary cap situation is “pretty good” heading into the new league year March 15, but that doesn't necessarily translate into bringing in any street free agents, especially to help a needy secondary.
To do so, the Steelers would have to scrap their plan of re-signing their own free agents along with making some tough deletions from the roster, which is something they don't want to do.
“I think we will be as same as we've always been,” Colbert said. “Is there a player who can help us on the outside who we can afford to add from a salary cap and are we better? Right now, we don't have that freedom, so if we add a lot from the outside we would have to take a lot away from the inside, which I don't think is our plan.”
The Steelers have followed this mode of operation for more than two decades, and it won't change now.
Colbert didn't go into specifics about how close they are to the salary cap, mostly because the league hasn't determined those numbers for the 2016 season. However, it is expected to come in around $155 million, which would be an increase of more than $12 million.
The website overthecap.com has the Steelers' top 51 salaries (only 51 count against the cap during the offseason) at $149.5 million, but that doesn't include the upcoming draft class, which the leaves the Steelers a little breathing room.
“The cap situations — relative to other years — is pretty good,” Colbert said. “We don't have to make a lot of drastic changes to be in compliance.”
Some adjustments will come in the way of restructures, releases and extensions.
The Steelers could clear a significant amount more with simple restructures of Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward; extending high-priced players in the final year of the deals in Lawrence Timmons and David DeCastro; and a post-June 1 designation of release of Cortez Allen.
Those are the decisions the Steelers have yet to make.
“What you're always looking at is a player's production versus his compensation,” Colbert said. “If he's not producing like he's being compensated, then you have to terminate him or reduce him or restructure. Those are all options with any player that has a big cap number.”
All of that still could be a good possibility, but the Steelers would use that money to sign their own, starting with cornerbacks William Gay and Antwon Blake and possibly safety Will Allen. The Steelers will have to do something at cornerback as they have only Ross Cockrell along with last year's draft class of Senquez Golson and Doran Grant under contract.
“We'll definitely entertain keeping William Gay and Antwon Blake and Will Allen,” Colbert said. “We haven't written off any of those guys, but we want to be able to add to it as well.”
Gay, Blake, Robert Golden, Brandon Boykin, Ramon Foster, Steve McLendon and Kelvin Beachum are the Steelers' top-tier unrestricted free agents. They have 19 unrestricted free agents but none will command big money on the open market.
“We want to stay the course as best we can with as many as our own guys and if there is a guy from the outside that makes sense, then we will plug them in,” Colbert said.
Colbert has done that before, but it hasn't been very often.
Jeff Hartings (2001), James Farrior (2002), Duce Staley (2004) and Mike Mitchell (2014) are the most notable free agent finds by the Steelers, but that borne out of necessity more than anything else.
In Colbert's 16 years as general manager, the Steelers have signed only seven free agents who went on to start multiple years (Kimo von Oelhoffen, Brent Alexander, Hartings, Farrior, Ryan Clark, Justin Hartwig, Mitchell).
Last year, the Steelers signed only DeAngelo Williams but at a reasonable $4 million for two years. The year before that, the Steelers stepped out of their comfort zone and invested $38 million in seven free agents, including $25 million and five years in Mitchell. Two years before that, the Steelers signed only Leonard Pope. In 2011, they didn't sign a free agent.
“We have never been big players in free agency,” Colbert said. “Our big play is keeping our own.”
• Colbert is expecting to get a late-round compensatory selection in the NFL Draft when they are announced in late March during the annual meetings in Boca Raton, Fla.
• Colbert said they would like to see more sack production from outside linebacker Jarvis Jones, who finished last year with two sacks. He has five sacks in 36 games over his three-year career. The Steelers have to make a decision by May 3 whether or not to pick up a fifth-year option on his rookie deal.
• Colbert said they have no intentions of releasing Shaun Suisham in a salary cap move before the start of the season. “At this point, we feel very fortunate that we have two kickers to work with,” Colbert said. “Hopefully, Shaun gets himself healthy and we should have a great competitive situation at kicker this summer.”