Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has often said he's not a stat-based quarterback. He wants to be measured on wins. He's said he wants to go down as the quarterback who won the most Super Bowls.
Whether that's a direct suggestion he's flexible with his contract or just well-spoke hyperbole is a matter of conjecture, but the reality is he's the guy on the team making the most money, therefore, he's in the highest position of control to help make those Super Bowls happen through his assistance with the salary cap.
From the team's perspective, at least.
Everything comes with a cost. The Baltimore Ravens are going to find out how to navigate through the salary cap waters with an expensive quarterback for the first time in franchise history. Joe Flacco's contract negotiations will be watched by other decorated passers in the league, such as Atlanta's Matt Ryan, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and, of course, Roethlisberger.
The Steelers are well over the projected $121.1 million salary cap now, and Roethlisberger is at a career-high cap number of $19 million. That was largely put together last season for the sake of sparing cap space to keep a veteran group in place the team thought would be talented enough to contend for a Super Bowl. Whatever the main reason was behind why that didn't work, the fact is the Steelers are well over the salary cap, and that's a tough pill to swallow considering the people writing those checks witnessed an 8-8 team this season.
For his shortcomings and unfulfilled expectations, Roethlisberger is still the centerpiece of the franchise. For his brilliance and flat-out dominance this season, he was injured once again. It's difficult, from one vantage point, to justify an extension, but the reality is two-fold: he's the centerpiece of the franchise, and his $19 million cap number is simply too high.
An extension is due.
The good news is this would provide the Steelers some immediate cap relief. Giving him a four-year deal would keep him in Pittsburgh until he's 35, which isn't incredibly old for a quarterback. Let's just put the what-ifs aside regarding health (we have no way of saying he will or won't get hurt in 2013 or beyond). While having three years left on his deal isn't normally the time to offer up an extension, the fact is the team needs the help now, and he's the most important piece of their championship puzzle.
Hammering out the exact numbers is hard, especially considering Flacco's deal will largely set the market, but something in the ballpark of $35 million in new money isn't out of the question. That would save approximately $3.5 million on this year's cap.
Factor in exclusive rights free agent tenders for cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and running back Baron Batch, along with original round restricted free agency tenders to Steve McLendon, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and Emmanuel Sanders. Stevenson Sylvester may not be around, considering the low price tags of Marshall McFadden, it may be difficult to keep the oft-injured Sylvester.
The release of James Harrison is imminent, and it would save $5.1 million. While the release of Willie Colon wouldn't save a ton ($1.2 million according to SCI's Ian Whetstone) it would help chunk away at a cap number that's roughly $12 million over where it needs to be before March 12, and will still need to factor in space for draft picks and free agents.
On top of this, restructures to the contracts of Antonio Brown and Lawrence Timmons (two players who are absolutely in the Steelers' plans for the next few years) and Heath Miller (may need some time to fully recover from a torn ACL at the end of the 2012 season) could provide an additional $10.5 million in cap relief.
The difference in restructuring these players as opposed to ones in the past is they are not facing possible release next year or the year after. That's a little north of $20 million saved, all with responsible, defensible roster decisions. Extending your franchise quarterback who was playing arguably the best he's ever played before a fluke injury (against a pass rush that included two Pro Bowl players) while guaranteeing a few more dollars to core players (Brown is the team's long-term answer at receiver, Miller lead the team in receptions and defensive back ass-whippings and Timmons is a fringe-Pro Bowl player at age 27) gives the team the relief it will need to get under the cap by the start of free agency, which is March 12.
And not every move they make or want to make needs to be cap-inspired. There were times not so long ago the Steelers made offseason moves simply because they were moves the felt needed to be made.