Pittsburgh Steelers Owe Key Free Agent Losses to Bloated Salaries

By Cian Fahey
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Despite all of their financial moves this off-season, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the 2013 NFL calendar year with less than $6 million in dead money. However, with that relatively low number, the team still has very little cap room to work with.

That lack of cap room pushed Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis to different teams as unrestricted free agents, while Emmanuel Sanders could soon follow as a restricted free agent. Wallace and Sanders could be part of potentially nine new starters (either new names completely or players switching positions) on offense this year, while Lewis’ loss puts the pressure on Cortez Allen to step into his starting role.

Allen is relatively unproven, while William Gay is not on his level as a third defensive back in nickel packages. That hurts the defense as a whole. A defense that has lost Casey Hampton and James Harrison also because of cap considerations.

With such little dead money, no cap space and holes on the roster, the Steelers are in a conundrum caused by bloated salaries.

Most notably, former defensive player of the year and perennial All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu is not representing his value on the field as he is being paid off the field. Polamalu accounts for over $10 million against the cap for this upcoming season.

At times during his career, the 31-year old (32 when the season starts) has been worth that and more for the Steelers’ defense. During his prime, Polamalu completely altered the approach of opposing offenses with just his presence, while the ball would more often than not find its way to him if he didn’t get to it first.

That hasn’t been the case since the 2010 playoff run.

Polamalu has consistently dealt with injuries, and it has dramatically impacted his performance on the field. Prior to the playoffs in 2010, Polamalu had seven interceptions, one forced fumble and one touchdown during the regular season. During the two seasons since then, he has managed just three interceptions in 23 starts.

Alongside Polamalu in the secondary is long-time veteran starting cornerback Ike Taylor, who is also overpaid.

Taylor had a good, not great season last year and ended it injured. At 32 years of age (33 for next season), he doesn’t have that long left and is already past his peak. While he is clearly a No. 1 cornerback, paying him double of what Keenan Lewis could make on the open market is illogical. In fact, with less than $1 million more, the Patriots could have afforded to sign Lewis and Sean Smith should they have preferred.

Even though it would have been hard for the Steelers to let Taylor leave, he likely would have returned for a cheaper price and it would have allowed them to keep Lewis and Allen.

Now, the Steelers only have Taylor for another year or two and then they will need to invest in another starting cornerback, even if Allen develops to his potential. If they had re-signed Lewis to a long-term deal, they would have been set at the position.

As the only remaining (healthy) member of the 2009 draft class with the team, Evander Hood is the only member of the class who will be with the team for his fifth season. Hood has been an ever-present in the starting lineup since 2010. Every season since then, the Steelers have been hoping for him to take significant steps forward in his development, but he never has.

As a 3-4 defensive end, Hood is expected to occupy blockers and maintain position at the line of scrimmage. He isn’t expected to be a factor in the passing game or on the statistical sheet.

Hood’s cap number is slated to be just under $3 million this season, good enough for 10th best on the roster. Hood is far from the Steelers’ 10th best or 10th most valuable player.

While they aren’t necessarily bad football players, none of these players are worth the money that they are being paid this season.

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