The Steelers, one of the league's most popular and successful franchises, plan to follow a self-imposed cap in 2010 and won't take advantage of the possible lack of a collective bargaining agreement to add more quality free agents than usual.
Director of football operations Kevin Colbert acknowledged the Steelers could be at a competitive disadvantage, especially if big-revenue teams decide to spend freely.
"We will operate as we always have. We will operate as if we have a cap," Colbert said Friday. "You don't know what you're going to be dealing with. First of all, no one's been in an uncapped year since 1993, so it's a whole different era and no one knows how this will play out. We don't know, if there is a new (labor) deal at any point, what the new rules are going to be."
The Steelers also "don't want to have to do something to undo what you did" should the next labor contract contain cap-like restrictions, Colbert said.
Unless a new labor deal is reached by this fall, NFL teams will be free to spend any amount they want on salaries without restrictions for the first time since Steelers owner Dan Rooney played a major role in designing the cap system used from 1994 to 2009.
Last season, the cap was $128 million and the floor was $111 million, meaning every team had to spend at least that amount. The Steelers will calculate what the cap would have been this season, then spend roughly that amount.
"We're doing a lot of guesswork here," Colbert said. "It's not a hard and fast invisible cap, but more just the approach -- things that make sense within your own team dynamics."
The Steelers don't believe this will be an especially attractive free-agent pool, but that didn't enter into their thinking, according to Colbert.
"It's a commonsense way to approach things," he said.
After missing the playoffs by going 9-7 one season after winning the Super Bowl, the Steelers need depth at every position except quarterback, Colbert said in his first interview since the season ended. Colbert said the team isn't putting a priority on any area.
With most of their top players under contract, the Steelers theoretically could begin next season with largely the same team that lost five games in a row late in the season. Colbert hinted that won't happen.
"I think if you enter the season with the same group you ended the season with, you might expect the same results because we're a 9-7 team at this point," Colbert said.
Nose tackle Casey Hampton recently said he will be unhappy if the Steelers prevent him from becoming a free agent by tagging him as their franchise player at a cost of about $7 million, or approximately what they paid him last season.
The Steelers prefer to sign players to multiyear contracts, but Colbert said keeping a player for a single season can be a logical way of doing business. Hampton will be 33 in September and has had weight problems.
"Our stance on a tag, any tag, is we don't like to use them," Colbert said. "However, we're never going to say we're not going to use something that is collectively bargained."
If former Steelers coach Bill Cowher returns to the NFL as a head coach, it is believed he wants Colbert to be the general manager.
"Anything to do with my personal status, I wouldn't talk about at this point or at any point. That's really not for me to discuss," Colbert said. "I'm totally happy in my position, at this point."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press