Steelers restructure DT Cam Heyward's contract, clear $7M in cap space

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some significant financial jockeying to do in order to put the team in a competitive position entering 2021, and they took an initial step toward such a goal Monday.

Pittsburgh restructured veteran defensive lineman Cameron Heyward’s contract, converting his roster bonus and base salary into a signing bonus to create $7 million in cap room, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported. Heyward will still receive the $10.5M he was due for 2021, but will be paid via one bonus instead of over the term of his base salary (plus the March roster bonus) for the upcoming season.

The restructure is a standard conversion procedure for a team looking to create space and trusting a veteran’s history to be worth paying the bulk of his annual money up front in a bonus. The important difference, though, is Pittsburgh’s current cap situation, which leaves the Steelers over the cap by roughly $19M after the Heyward restructure with a projected cap of $180M (the current cap floor, per the NFL). This matters because the Steelers still have a decision to make at quarterback, with Ben Roethlisberger accounting for $41.25M of the team’s total cap space for 2021.

Pittsburgh could create more space (slightly under $4M) with a similar restructure for fellow defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, per Over The Cap, but the significant savings opportunities end there for players under contract in 2021. The Steelers are going to need to get more creative — or ruthless — with their roster moves if they want to keep Roethlisberger at or near his current number in 2021.

Last week, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was noncommittal on Pittsburgh’s future with Roethlisberger, echoing the words of Rams GM Les Snead just days before Los Angeles shipped Jared Goff to Detroit for Matthew Stafford. Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh’s franchise quarterback since way back in 2004, is a Steeler right now, and Colbert admitted Roethlisberger and the team “have to look at this current situation.”

Interestingly, that remaining $19M in payroll that exceeds the projected salary cap floor for 2021? That’s essentially equal to what the Steelers would save if they traded or cut Roethlisberger.

Don’t put those calculators and red pens away any time soon. The Steelers have a ways to go before they’re back in the black — and it could be without Roethlisberger in black and gold.

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