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Old 03-07-2008, 05:12 AM   #1
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Default Steelers a Little TIght Under the Cap

Steelers little tight under cap collar
Friday, March 07, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers have only $1.3 million in salary cap room left after signing one free agent and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to an 8-year contract Monday.
Only the Dallas Cowboys have less room under their salary cap, yet the Steelers continue to parade free agents through their UPMC facility on the South Side. They had five visitors the past week and signed one, running back Mewelde Moore of the Minnesota Vikings.
The latest to pay a not-yet-rewarding visit was Chris Crocker, a free agent safety from Atlanta. Crocker, 28, played at Marshall University. He started the past three seasons, two for the Falcons and one for the Cleveland Browns, where he broke into the NFL in 2003. He already has an offer from the Houston Texans.
Crocker has played both safety spots and is the second safety to visit this week; the other was New England's Eugene Wilson. Those visits show the Steelers might be anxious about their free safety position.
Starter Ryan Clark lost his spleen and his gall bladder after his blood reacted poorly to the high altitude in Denver Oct. 21. He has been working out at their complex for weeks. Second-year man Anthony Smith replaced Clark but was benched after he gave up a couple of long touchdown passes at New England and against Jacksonville late in the season.
On Monday, coach Mike Tomlin told everybody not to hold their breath if they expect more free-agent signings after they signed Moore.
So far, that has held true. But the minimal room under the salary cap might not be the reason. The Steelers can easily create more room, a lot of it if they wish. They are holding nearly $7 million worth of cap space for tackle Max Starks since they named him their transition player. If they pull that tag, which they can do, they would have $8.3 million under the salary cap.
They also could restructure some of their players' contracts, as they've done in the past. For example, guard Kendall Simmons signed a contract last summer through 2011. His salary for '08 is $3.4 million. They could reduce his salary to $1 million for next season and make up the difference by giving him a $2.4 million signing bonus, thereby reducing his salary cap number.
For salary cap purposes, signing bonuses are spread over the life of the contract on a pro-rated basis. Thus, that $2.4 million would count $600,000 in each of the next four seasons. While it would increase their cap number for Simmons by that much from 2009 on, it would decrease it by $1.8 million this year.
That move alone would more than double their available salary cap space from its current $1.3 million to $3.1 million. And Simmons isn't the only player they could restructure and pick up room under the cap.
"If we continue to move forward, if we sign more players, depending on the dollars, we might have to make some other adjustments," said Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations.
"We always know where the cap is, and we are aware of what we can and can't do. We have to work within those restrictions."
It's not necessarily creating cap room that will limit what the Steelers do in free agency. They don't believe in wholesale signings of other team's players, for one thing. And they also don't have the kind of ready cash that some of the richer teams can throw around, such as the Washington Redskins.
Neither do they want to get themselves in the kind of fix Washington found itself in two years ago, in which the Redskins pushed off so much cap room into the future that there would have been no way for them to get under the salary cap in 2006 if there hadn't been a last-hour collective bargaining agreement extension that pushed the cap for each team $17 million higher.
The term used by NFL owners is "cash over cap" and it has been Dan Rooney's pet peeve since free agency arrived with a new CBA in 1993. It was a loophole in the league salary cap system the players quickly exploited, and now has become an acceptable part of the deal whereby signing bonuses are paid out immediately but are spread out over the length of the contract in equal amounts for cap accounting.
It made cash king in the NFL -- as long as the salary cap for each team rose every year. The problem for smaller market teams is while they might have the room or are able to create more of it, they don't have the available cash to keep feeding the system.
The Steelers might sign another low-tier free agent or two in the coming days or weeks, but as for making any splash, it's best to keep Mike Tomlin's instructions from Monday in mind.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on March 7, 2008 at 12:00 am
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Old 03-07-2008, 09:00 AM   #2
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Default Re: Steelers a Little TIght Under the Cap

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