The Pittsburgh Steelers avoid major salary-cap issues every year because they have young, productive players who perform well on rookie contracts. This effectively offsets the bloated contracts for veterans.
The Steelers’ way: Watch draft picks perform on the cheap, then sign those cheap, talented players to lucrative extensions.
This year especially, the Steelers can take solace in having some of the league’s best value contracts.
Here’s a list of the team’s best value deals. These aren’t the big-money deals -- Ben Roethlisberger is good value at some $20 million per year, but that’s not bargain money, per se, so he’s not included here. (Salaries come from ESPN's roster management system.)
Martavis Bryant ($600,000): The Steelers have Bryant at this low-end range for the next two seasons as part of his fourth-round rookie contract. Bryant will be flirting with 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns based on his career per-game averages. That’s about $600 per yard.
Le’Veon Bell ($966,000): Entering the final year of his rookie contract, Bell might not see this number. The Steelers could extend his deal before training camp. But if they don’t, Bell will be highly motivated to produce another game-breaking season for less than $1 million.
Antonio Brown ($6.25 million): Brown would be good value at $10 million. But at his 2016 payout, he might be the best value in the NFL. If Brown catches 130 passes, that equates to $48,000 per catch. Brown is entering the fifth year of a six-year, $43 million contract.
DeAngelo Williams ($2 million): The Colts paid Frank Gore $4 million for 3.7 yards per carry and six touchdowns last season. The Steelers paid Williams $2 million for 4.53 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns. Williams is entering the final year of a two-year deal.
Stephon Tuitt ($839,000): Tuitt played nearly every snap and finished second on the team with 6.5 sacks. The Steelers believe Tuitt has made a jump, and he’s doing so for less than $1 million per year.
James Harrison ($1.25 million): For seven sacks in 18 games (including the playoffs), plus a mentorship role in the locker room, the Steelers are getting their money’s worth out of Harrison, who will be 38 when the season starts. Harrison enters the final year of a two-year extension.
Ryan Shazier ($1.284 million): In his third season, the Steelers want Shazier to assume a larger role in the defense. Shazier, though perceived as injury-prone, has shown he can take over a game with athleticism and range (See: Bengals playoff game).
Chris Boswell ($525,000): Boswell made 29 field goals in 32 tries, including several fourth-quarter connections. Some teams have to pay $3 million or $4 million for that. Not the Steelers.