Beginning today, you may see a lot more movement in NFL teams signing veteran players than you have in the past few months. That’s because a crucial league deadline expires, where any veteran players signed will not count against a team’s compensatory draft pick formula.
For those unaware, the compensatory system awards draft picks to NFL teams who lose key free agents, provided those teams don’t replace the outgoing player with another incoming player of similar contract. While the formula isn’t fully published by the league, a roundabout method of determining who gets what is generally public information.
For example, with the Steelers losing Le’Veon Bell to free agency, they would’ve had to have signed another running back to a similar big dollar deal to “equal” what they lost. Since the Steelers have not done so, it’s all but certain they will receive a draft pick as “compensation” for losing Bell.
That compensation is valued between rounds three and seven of next year’s draft. 32 total picks, in theory, one for each team, will be awarded between those rounds based on the compensatory formula. However, all 32 teams will not receive these additional picks – that’s simply the total that are given out… and the higher the value of the player lost, the higher the value of the compensatory pick.
That’s why teams such as the Steelers have been relatively quiet in adding too many free agents this offseason. While Pittsburgh had an unusual offseason where they acquired Steven Nelson, Mark Barron and Donte Moncrief, those contracts don’t appear to have any effect on the large deal Bell signed with the New York Jets. Most anticipate the Steelers will receive one of the highest compensatory picks in return, likely to be a third-round selection.
Most would speculate with the deadline passed and the compensatory standings unaffected, that the Steelers will start to add more bodies to positions of need that were previously unaddressed. However, I’m here to tell you that’s more than likely not going to happen based on a number of reasons.
The Steelers are bursting at the seams right now with 84 players signed to their roster. This doesn’t included Ryan Shazier, who was placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list last week and will not count against the team’s 90-player offseason roster allowance.
That leaves six spaces available: with nine draft picks awaiting to sign contracts, it’s inevitable that a few players on the bottom of the totem pole will be bumped for one of the incoming rookies.
That should make it even more difficult for the Steelers to attract one of the veteran names still available… but it’s not the only determent for doing so.
Nine rookies and $4.5 million in cap space remaining (according to OverTheCap.com) makes it extremely difficult for the Steelers to make any wild moves in the leftover free agency pool. Some will say that they can just rework some contracts, but a bit of that has already occurred this offseason with Vince Williams and Ben Roethlisberger agreeing to extensions which gave each pay raises that work different according to the NFL accounting system.
Dumping Morgan Burnett, Marcus Gilbert and Le’Veon Bell from the roster allowed the Steelers to make a few more moves than they may have in past offseasons, but a big cap hit with Antonio Brown’s contract still looms large in 2019.
That means, unless there’s more contracts extended and changed around, the rookies will probably eat up most of the remaining cash – and the Steelers would also be wise to allow a little breathing room in the event they have to sign someone as an injury replacement during the season.
Therefore, a name such as safety Tre Boston, would be cost prohibitive for the Steelers to sign. Yet there’s still more to it.
Why would a veteran player such as Tre Boston (for example) want to sign with the Steelers… or anyone for that matter?
In most cases, veteran players have made their money. A pay cut isn’t in their best interest unless it means a larger opportunity is on the horizon: winning a Super Bowl.
The Steelers have been perennial contenders for years, but after last season’s implosion, it doesn’t look like the best “winning” landing spot for a veteran to also make less money.
Consider veteran players have families, often rooted in an area where they once played and made a home. The further away from home, the harder it is for a veteran to say “Okay” to a deal where they are possibly playing for glory over income.
Not only is that a tough sell, but in order to play for a ring or personal legacy, there must be an opportunity for that player to actually play. In the case of Tre Boston, the Steelers already signed a hybrid linebacker/safety in Mark Barron this offseason, have two starters at their safety positions (Sean Davis and second-year pro Terrell Edmunds) plus another second-year player in Marcus Allen and long-time contributor Jordan Dangerfield rounding out the immediate depth chart.
That doesn’t scream opportunity to any bigger name veteran.
Nor does the only other spot I could see adding depth to: the tight end position.
While there aren’t many tight ends left out there to sign anyway, the ones still hanging would play half or less of the Steelers offensive snaps with a healthy Vance McDonald entrenched as the starter. (This is also assuming they would be able to beat out incumbent backup Xavier Grimble as well.)
I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but it appears there would have to be some major shell game accounting going on for the Steelers to make the least bit of a move toward any remaining free agents. While they could look reworking some other contracts with higher dollar players such as Cam Hewyard or Stephon Tuitt, the likely scenario I envision is the team freeing up space to extend players such as Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave or Joe Haden beyond the 2019 season.
Even in that case, it may be in the organization’s best interest to wait out re-signing those players heading into the 2020 business season, rather than kick the can down the road and saddle themselves with dead cap space: something they had to suffer through for several seasons worth of similar extensions made to players like Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, as well as waiting for bad deals with LaMarr Woodley and Cortez Allen to come off of the books.
I believe the Steelers learned from those mistakes and while they’re appear to be in a “win now” mode, I also feel they’re already prepared to enter battle in the 2019 season with the troops already on board.