Pittsburgh has Larry Foote's nearly $2.9 million of cap room, several more million from Hines Ward's contract extension and more cap-savers from the renegotiation of Ike Taylor's 2009 salary.
So, what's the holdup in signing some of their key players who have one year left on their contracts? It could be a two-way street.
Starters with one year left on their contracts are tight end Heath Miller, halfback Willie Parker, offensive tackles Max Starks and Willie Colon, center Justin Hartwig, nose tackle Casey Hampton, defensive end Brett Keisel, free safety Ryan Clark and kicker Jeff Reed.
Of those, Starks is the only player they have admitted to trying to sign to a long-term deal and the reason for that is, as their franchise player, he is guaranteed a salary of nearly $8.5 million this season. They'd love to reduce that cap hit but they'd have to come up with a whopping signing bonus in order to convince Starks and agent Eugene Parker to sign a long-term contract.
Other players most likely to receive contract extension proposals before the start of this season are Miller and Reed. The rest might have to wait until after the 2009 season.
Miller is so important to their offense that the Steelers could not imagine playing without him. He's a good combination of blocker and receiver and they don't have that in any other tight end -- few teams in the league, in fact, have one like him. But if there is no CBA extension before next March, Miller will be classified as a restricted free agent, not unrestricted as he would normally become when his five-year rookie contract expires.
Reed also is not someone the team is itching to replace. He has proven to be a consistent kicker with a strong leg who has mastered the tricky winds at Heinz Field. He's as dependable as they come, and he might be the most amenable to a contract of all their players with one year left on deals.
The Steelers already are looking for Hartwig's replacement. Colon has not been spectacular at right tackle and he, too, will be restricted and not an UFA if there is not a renewal of the current CBA. Keisel will be 31, but the Steelers added Ziggy Hood in the first round of last month's draft. Parker, 28, has Rashard Mendenhall at his position and while they'd like to keep both, if Parker wants too much the Steelers might opt to let him test the free-agent waters next year. Hampton will be 32 in September and has weight issues. He still performs at a high level but is a two-down player who might not have much left.
Clark himself has had health issues but he rebounded from them to have his best season in 2008. He turns 30 in October and the Steelers might be interested in signing him for a few more years because he has played so well for them.