On the Steelers: Many tough choices on tap


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Now, we wait for the Steelers to drop the next shoes.

They were assured Tuesday morning of keeping linebacker Jason Worilds for at least the 2014 season when it took him mere hours to accept the $9,754,000 transition deal they dropped on him Monday afternoon.

By accepting, Worilds no longer can entertain offers from other teams because he no longer is a free agent. It’s not only a binding one-year deal, it also is guaranteed, and they would like to sign him to a long-term deal.

Steelers player pushes healthy eating, exercise initiative

Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum was at Aiken Elementary School today to help students kick off their "It Starts With Breakfast" campaign to promote healthy eating and exercise. (Video by Nate Gudiry; 3/4/2014)

The next steps for the Steelers will look like a dance that has become all too familiar for them lately — restructuring contracts to save 2014 salary-cap room, terminating veteran contracts, asking for pay cuts and working out contract extensions that also create space in their 2014 salary cap.

They need that space because, at the moment, they are approximately $10 million above where they need to be for salary-cap compliance by 4 p.m. Tuesday. That takes into account their top 51 salaries, the only ones that count in the offseason (their entire roster is closer to $14 million above the cap).

They are trying to negotiate a contract extension with Heath Miller that perhaps would keep him a Steelers tight end until his retirement and also lower his 2014 salary-cap hit of $9.5 million (including a $6 million salary).

There are many other ways they are working to create salary-cap room, including a multiyear deal with Worilds that also would reduce his currently bloated salary-cap hit this year.

Cornerback Ike Taylor also has to be in their sights, and something needs to be done with him by Tuesday. Taylor is scheduled to make $7 million in this the final year of his contract. He’s not going to get that. They could release him and save $7 million. But no matter how anyone thinks he played in 2013, they have little depth at cornerback, and he would give them at least that.

They could ask Taylor to take $3 million in salary and shave their cap by $4 million. They could reasonably pare $2 million more from their 2014 salary cap on an extension with Miller.

Those two things would create $6 million in cap space. They will cut tackle Levi Brown and his $6.25 million due this season, and that’s a quick $12.25 million in savings, which would put them easily under the cap by Tuesday.

But they need to be more than a few million dollars under the cap.

They need to sign players, too, players like one or two of their three free-agent defensive ends (Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood and Al Woods).

They need halfbacks other than the only experienced one they currently have under contract, Le’Veon Bell.

They need backup offensive linemen.

And they need to sign and perhaps focus next on veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery.

So they must create even more salary-cap room.

Among the many issues will be safety Troy Polamalu’s $8,250,000 salary in his final year (Ask him to take a cut? Extend his contract?) and whether to restructure or extend linebacker Lawrence Timmons’ contract, extend quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s deal and do something with wide receiver Antonio Brown’s.

Then there is outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. He lost his position to Worilds in 2013 when they moved the young linebacker to Woodley’s spot on the left and moved Woodley to the right, where he never had played in the pros. Presumably, Worilds is the starting left outside linebacker. They drafted Jarvis Jones in 2013 to be their starting right outside linebacker.

Woodley counts $13,590,000 against their salary cap right now, including an $8 million salary.

That’s way too much to pay for a backup, and one who has had injury problems the past three seasons. They can ask him to take a pay cut from that $8 million salary, and then it would be his choice.

If they cut Woodley now, because of the cap rules, all his pro-rated bonus money would count now.

He would count a little more than $14 million if they cut him now (but that also would wipe him off their books for 2015 and 2016).

If they cut him after June 1, he would count $5.6 million this year (and still be on their books for 2015).

Choices, choices. The Steelers made one.

They have many more ahead of them.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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