PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers started their salary cap work this week, restructuring defensive captain Cameron Heyward's contract, saving the team roughly $7 million for the 2021 season.
It's a start, but the Steelers aren't breaking even yet. And as they move closer to the March 17 deadline, they'll need to save another $15 million to comply with the NFL's current salary cap floor of $180 million.
First, the league is expected to raise that number. While teams will be dealing with a tough offseason in regards to money, the salary cap floor should increase to about $185 million or higher.
Which will help the Steelers.
They aren't out of trouble yet, though. Pittsburgh needs to find ways to meet the floor and resign some of their 24 free agents. They'll also be considering handing a contract to T.J. Watt and would like to dive into free agency and secure a small signing or two to help with depth.
Before any of this, they'll consider cutting players. In past years, the Steelers lived and breathed off restructuring contracts and using players as cap casualties. And this year, they'll keep that same mentality.
"We are very comfortable with that approach," general manager Kevin Colbert said. "It has been much more successful for us than unsuccessful. I think we will continue to do that."
So, who's on the list of potential cuts? One name that has floated around in Pittsburgh is inside linebacker, Vince Williams.
Williams, 31, is set to make $7 million in 2021 during the final year of his contract. If the Steelers decide to move on from the veteran linebacker, they will save $4 million in cap space.
That number sounds appetizing. The Steelers could put themselves near the $10 million mark by removing Williams and looking for alternative options. Some they've already played with.
The reasoning behind cutting Williams would be because of the money and the increase in production behind him. The Steelers will get Devin Bush back this season, who will immediately take over as the top inside linebacker.
Robert Spillane, Avery Williamson and Marcus Allen all played well in 2020 and became comfortable within the starting roles of the defense. So, why not ditch the vet and keep one of the younger options?
The answer is simple - because it doesn't save anyone any money. Or at least not enough money.
The Steelers would need to sign whichever of the three they wanted to keep around. Outside of Allen, that means they're likely giving up a $3 or $4 million contract to whoever sticks around.
Yes, Spillane and Williamson bring youth to the position, but neither seem like the long-term solution next to Bush, which adds to Williams' case.
Williams is the heart and soul of the Steelers' locker room. Pittsburgh will be without Maurkice Pouncey moving forward, meaning they need that true "dog" mentality.
Williams brings that mentality.
Without saving significant money, keeping the 31-year-old makes sense. The Steelers will need to find depth, but could solve their short and long-term problems by utilizing the NFL Draft to find an inside backer behind Williams and Bush.
It just works out better if the Steelers stick with what they have, and explore other options to come up with cap space.