- Scott Brown, ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have signed seven players from other teams and they have been active in free agency despite limited room under the salary cap.
They have been able to add to their roster by taking advantage of a rule that allows teams to sign players to veteran’s minimum contacts and get a discount with such deals in regard to the cap.
The rule was instituted so veteran players did not get left out in free agency because of what they command as far as a minimum base salary, per the collective bargaining agreement, and the Steelers have signed three players under those provisions.
The maximum signing bonuses allowed in veteran minimum contracts is $65,000 and that is the only guaranteed money the Steelers gave to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, linebacker Arthur Moats and cornerback Brice McCain.
Take that with the guaranteed money -- almost exclusively given in signing bonuses -- the Steelers doled out to the four other outside free agents they signed and they are on the hook for only $8.04 million for those seven players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Of course, the money paid to those players should be much higher assuming the Steelers properly evaluated the free agents they signed and don’t cut ties with a number of them prematurely.
But guaranteeing just over $8 million to seven outside free agents shows how the Steelers have been able to reshape their roster despite the constraints of the salary cap.
Here is a review of the contacts, according to ESPN Stats & Info, signed by the seven outside free agents who have joined the Steelers since March 11:
Safety Mike Mitchell: The Steelers made their biggest signing on the first day of free agency when they landed Mitchell with a five-year, $25 million contract. They also protected themselves if Mitchell, who will take over at free safety for Ryan Clark, does not work out. The fifth-year veteran received a $4.75 million signing bonus and has already earned a $500,000 roster bonus. Mitchell has modest base salaries his first two seasons ($750,000 and $2 million) and base salaries of $5 million per season in each of the final three seasons of his deal. The Steelers could cut ties with Mitchell after two seasons if he is not a good fit in Pittsburgh and not absorb too much of a hit in regard to the salary cap.
Running back LeGarrette Blount: The Steelers signed the player who emerged as the Patriots’ best running back in the latter part of 2013 to a two-year, $3.85 million contract. Only the signing bonus ($950,000) is guaranteed with Blount scheduled to make base salaries of $900,000 and $2 million in 2014 and 2015, respectively. The Steelers have some protection in the event that they want to part ways with Blount after one season since more than half of his money comes from the 2015 base salary that is not guaranteed.
Wide receiver Lance Moore: The Steelers signed Moore shortly after losing Jerricho Cotchery to the Carolina Panthers, landing the ninth-year veteran with a two-year, $3 million contract. Only a signing bonus of $645,000 is guaranteed and Moore will make base salaries of $855,000 and $1.5 million. Half of the money in Moore’s contract is in the second season giving the Steelers another escape hatch if they want to cut ties with the former Saint after one season.
Defensive lineman Cam Thomas: The Steelers badly needed bodies along their defensive line when they signed Thomas to a two-year, $4 million contract. The player known as “Baby Zilla” because of his size received a $1 million signing bonus and base salaries of $1 million and $2 million. Again, even in shorter contracts given out by the Steelers they left themselves an out by putting half of the money in Thomas’ deal in the second year of his contract.
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey: It’s easy to see why the Steelers took a chance on a player who has an excellent blend of size and speed but has inconsistent hands. Heyward-Bey agreed to a one-year, $795,000 contract and the only guaranteed money is the $65,000 the fifth-year veteran received as a signing bonus. This is a classic low-risk, potentially high-reward proposition for the Steelers.
Linebacker Arthur Moats: The former Bill signed the same deal as Heyward-Bey, and Moats will provide great value for the Steelers if he can handle the role of No. 3 outside linebacker as well as contribute on special teams. Moats really becomes a bargain is he also provides depth at inside linebacker, something the fourth-year veteran said he will be able to do.
Cornerback Brice McCain: Like Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain signed a one-year, $795,000 deal that includes a mere $65,000 signing bonus. As with Heyward-Bey and Moats, McCain will count only $635,000 against the cap this year because of the veteran’s minimum deal he signed.