Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hampton Takes A Pay Cut, Wallace Sits Back And Watches Free Agents Contracts

As Brian McIntyre of Mac's Football Blog first reported this morning, Wednesday, March 15th, Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton restructured his contract in order to free salary cap space. -

Only it wasn't a restructure. In actuality Hampton took a pay cut. I'd heard in the past from ones in the know that Hampton is as down to earth as they come and it wouldn't surprise them at all if something like this would happen. They turned out to be prognosticators.

Big Ben, Woodley, Timmons, Colon, and Ike were all actual restructures, meaning they got some salary turned into bonus money. Hampton's was a flat-out $3 million pay cut. And a pay cut makes more sense than restructuring in this case, because the Steelers don't want to guarantee money to an aging, injured veteran in the final year of his deal. Nonetheless, way to take one for the team, Big Snack.

Lance Williams of and @SteelRadio on Twitter posted this spreadsheet to show how it's charted: "Hampton Contract Reduction Breakdown" ~

That being the case, where do the Steelers stand where the salary cap is concerned? Also, how does it affect Mike Wallace and the potential signing of other free agents?

Based on information from Ian Whetstone of and other sources whom I trust, the Steelers Rule of 51 number should be approximately $114.6 million, which includes all of the restricted tenders. The Steelers personal cap number I do believe is about $122.7 million, which includes the approximate amount of $500,000 carried over from the 2011 cap and the $1.6 million in extra money generously provided by the Redskins and Cowboys. (Uncapped Year-Gate?) That puts the Steelers at a round $8 million or so under the cap. Again, that's after the tenders and as of 2200 hrs PST.*

With restructures, releases and one reduction, Omar Khan has slashed a little more than $43 million off of the Steelers salary cap. In five weeks. Essentially the salary cap is Omar Khan's bitch. (Don't tell my mama I said that!)

How does this affect Mike Wallace and his situation? If another team wants to sign Wallace to an offer sheet, the signing period for this ends on April 20th. If, again, another team makes Wallace an offer and he does sign it and Pittsburgh doesn't match, the Steelers receive that team's first-round pick. These are the things we know, and admittedly it was a calculated risk that the Steelers took.

From what we've seen so far, teams picking in the approximate top half of the draft have been unlikely to give up their pick for Wallace. This isn't because he is not worth it, but because, with a rookie salary cap now, they would be trading a modestly-priced draft pick for a high-priced signing. And most teams picking in the second half of the first round don't have the cap room to offer a deal that the Steelers could not match.

In order to take Wallace away from the Steelers, a team would need to have a high cap number this year. The Steelers must match any deal as it is written. So, all it would take is a significantly high cap number and the Steelers wouldn't match it. If a team offered Wallace a deal with a cap number of around $16 million this year, the Steelers would lose its main burner.

It behooves the Steelers to get a long-term deal done. Sooner rather than later is in the Steelers best interest also. To put it plainly, it's less expensive over the long haul, as it's always cheaper to buy than to rent.

How do the recent wide receiver contracts affect Wallace and a deal the Steelers could get done? Let's look at the main ones:

Calvin Johnson - 8 years, $132 million stays with Lions (Doesn't affect Wallace. Let's move on.);
Vincent Jackson - 5 years, $55.555 million to Bucs (Real money: 2 yrs/$26 million);
DeShaun Jackson - 5 years, $51 million stays with Eagles (Real money: $4 million 2012 cap hit: $10 mill to sign along with base of $750,000 and 2012 $250,000 workout bonus.);
Pierre Garçon - 5 years, $42.5 million to Redskins (Real money: 2012 salary cap hit $4.7 million & 2013 cap hit $8.2 million; real guaranteed money just $13.25 million.); and
Brandon Marshall - traded to Bears for some undisclosed draft picks.

Wallace is better than both Garçon and DeShaun Jackson now, and is close to Vincent Jackson. Therefore, Wallace will have to get an offer somewhere in the $52-$54 million range with a good amount of guaranteed money, maybe around $16 million. Then most that would be in the form of a year one signing bonus, which could then be prorated over maybe 5 years, with the rest put into a year two roster bonus.

If none of that happens and he rides the tender of $2.74 million, they could still use the franchise tag next year if it comes to it. The Steelers still are in the drivers seat.

What else does this mean? -

Sorry, that was as close to "Welcome back, Cotchery" as I could come.

*Lance Williams pointed out that in 2012, each club may "borrow" up to $1.5 million in cap room from a future year. Both these amounts would be repaid in future years. This might be attractive to the Steelers to use. They didn't use it last year when it was $3 million as certain ones thought they might, but the money is there if needed. -