Outside of typical rabble-rousing that goes on when national media outlets speak about Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the weather report surrounding the contract negotiation of Roethlisberger is "fair."
No one's talking, allegedly due to a gag order instituted on both sides. We either believe all systems are go, or we believe, as Mr. Florio of Pro Football Talk spotted his opportunity to incite the masses, the team is strong-handing Roethlisberger.
Apparently, we're all idiots and are forced to assume a player wanting to retire with a team means that player does not want to be paid his market value. Right, Mike?
The fact the Steelers and Roethlisberger have not yet confirmed a negotiation has been conducted and a new contract has been issued does not automatically confirm a storm is on the horizon. For all we know, the calculated moves the team made during one of the most active days in franchise history (two players were extended and three were cut) were done to clear the path to get to Roethlisberger - a player who, judging by his success as well as the complete lack of a Plan B currently residing within Pittsburgh's grasp, more than anyone else, is a part of the team's long-term plans.
At the same time, leverage in a contract negotiation does not have to come in the form of dollars or length of contract. What if Roethlisberger, the first player to earn $70 million on a $100 million contract, isn't concerned with just money? It doesn't seem entirely out of line for him to voice his opinion on the direction of the roster (see Gerry Dulac's tidbit about the team wanting to draft a tall receiver with one of their first two picks in the upcoming draft).
Just for the sake of painting a clearer speculative picture, is it unreasonable to think this statement from Roethlisberger was made to the team amid their negotiations? "When you've gotten A, B and C done, we'll talk about me taking less less money."
Money is going to be the bottom line for NFL players. That's reality. But the truly powerful ones have the rare opportunity to have something of organizational control. What's going to help Roethlisberger's earning power in the future more? Guaranteed money over the final third of his career, or another championship or two, securing that Hall of Fame berth, melding that legacy of winning over stats?
Any contract extension either side may want to agree to is more likely going to come off the heels of other franchise-generated decisions, up to and including the 2014 NFL Draft, and it's not going to be done off a generally vanilla free agency class in that same year.
The NFL is now about patching holes with low-priced veterans. The middle class of the league has shrunk to the point players like Ryan Clark won't be signed over players like Will Allen, not because Allen is a better player (he's not), because Clark would cost too much. If Roethlisberger will want the best opportunity to win over the end of his career, he must recognize he plays as much a part in that as the scouts drafting the future core of the team do. They must find game-ready talent that can play on Sundays just as he must know the higher cap number he has, the less likely the team will be able to retain quality players.
Who is he, after all? Joe Flacco?
The quarterback's ability to control the salary cap has become the foundation for success in the NFL, and with a generation of quarterbacks possessing more talent in college than at any point in history, the young, low-paid passers have a distinct advantage in terms of the value of his teammates than the big money passers will.
Neither Roethlisberger nor the Steelers need a hack like myself to explain that obvious trend in the league. But that same hack also sees an easy win-win for both teams by getting Ben a cap-friendly deal provided their moves are ones he agrees to as both sides pursue their unified goal of winning championships (plural) over the end of Roethlisberger's career.