By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report Writer
Over the past two weeks, the Steelers have moved money around to free up cap space heading into the 2016 regular season. To do this, the team restructured the contracts of right tackle Marcus Gilbert and safety Mike Mitchell. These moves freed up around $4 million in cap space for the Steelers as the preseason draws to a close. Additionally, the Steelers have restructured wide receiver Antonio Brown’s contract, giving him more money in 2016 while reducing his salary in 2017. However, these moves have created a decent amount of speculation as to what the Steelers are saving up to do.
Many people believe that the Steelers will make a move to give Le’Veon Bell a contract extension. In all reality, though, this won’t likely happen. If you have read anything online about the Steelers recently, you know that Bell is entering his contract season and is set to hit the free agent market during the 2017 offseason. You also know, then, that Bell has had substantial off-field issues that have led to missed playing time, including this season when he will serve a 3-game suspension to start the season. Bell’s injury history also has been a huge concern for the team and at this point, the Steelers will likely sit and wait before deciding what to do in regards to their All-Pro running back.
If Bell is ruled out as a candidate for an extension (which he rightfully should be), that would leave All-Pro guard David DeCastro as the logical choice to receive an extension. DeCastro has emerged as arguably the Steelers best offensive lineman, even with Maurkice Pouncey finally being healthy. A former 1st-round pick in 2012, DeCastro has made 50 career starts in Pittsburgh while also starting 47 of the past 48 regular season games. The effective and steady play DeCastro and the rest of the offensive line has been one of the driving factors in the emergence of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell as elite players in the NFL and why backup running back DeAngelo Williams continues to perform at a high level at an older age. After averaging 47 sacks per season from 2006-2009, Roethlisberger’s sack totals have also decreased 12 sacks less per season since the hiring of Todd Haley and the offensive line resurgence, with 3 games last season where Big Ben was not sacked at all. Again, there is no denying that Brown, Bell, and Roethlisberger are out of this world talents, but listen to me when I tell you that an offense is only as good as the guys up front.
Maybe that’s former offensive lineman in me talking, creating a bias. Or maybe I am right.
I am willing to say that I am right on this one.
Now back to my original point. DeCastro is going to be playing on his 5th-year option contract this season, which will net him just over $8M this season. To put it into perspective, the highest paid guard this season will be the Raider’s Kelechi Osemele, who signed a 5 year, $58.5M deal this offseason (DeCastro will be the 3rd-highest paid guard this season). Osemele’s deal will cause a $13 million cap hit this year, which isn’t terrible for the top paid guard in the league. The biggest issue? Osemele isn’t the best guard in the NFL. That distinction belongs to the Raven’s Marshal Yanda, a 2015 1st-Team All-Pro who currently is playing on a 4 year, $31.9M deal that will have a cap hit of over $10M per season in 2018 and 2019. But who was the other 1st-Team All-Pro guard in the NFL last season?
Not Kelechi Osemele.
This puts a wrinkle in trying to determine DeCastro’s value and how quickly a deal could get done. Originally, Osemele was going to be transitioned to left tackle for the Raiders. Unfortunately for the Steelers, Osemele is currently locked into the Raiders starting left guard position. With him staying at guard, it has significantly changed the value of DeCastro’s future deal. DeCastro likely won’t see that type of money from the Steelers but it is reasonable to believe that the Steelers will look between the $8-$10 million range for a new deal. While we originally believed that the Steelers would try to undersell the contract, stalls in talks earlier likely indicated a price range that DeCastro wasn’t satisfied with. Because of that and the new money created for next season with Brown’s restructured contract and the salary cap raising over $10 million next offseason, the Steelers can reasonably afford to pay DeCastro more money than they originally intended, while keeping both parties comfortable. Unlike most other organizations, the Steelers also have a tendency to lower the base salary and increase the signing bonus, meaning the player receives the same amount of money while the team takes a much lower cap hit.
The main issue is that the clock is ticking. The Steelers are strict about not signing players to extensions during the regular season and with the Steelers kicking off against the Redskins on September 12th, time is running out to give DeCastro the new contract that he deserves. The worst thing that could happen to the Steelers would be letting DeCastro hit the free agent market, where he would likely garner top dollar from a team with the cap space and need for an elite guard. The Steelers have made quick moves like this in recent memory, with Cam Heyward signing a 6-year, $59.25 million dollar deal last summer. Realistically, the Steelers will look for the same price range for DeCastro.
The biggest question that remains at this point is when will a new deal get done?
Rumors have surfaced in recent days that a contract extension is near. DeCastro hasn’t commented on the situation since August 22nd when he said there had been no progress made. However, that could all be a smokescreen to prevent the topic from being a distraction. At this point, I am willing to believe that the two sides are very close on making a new deal.
If that is the case, Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell will be extremely happy.