Throughout the craziness that is NFL Draft weekend, the news of Ben Roethlisberger’s new contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers last Wednesday, 15 years to the day when the Steelers made him their 1st round, 11th overall, draft pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, has become somewhat lost in the shuffle.
While fans should be excited to watch Roethlisberger play for a few more years in the Steel City, if you are like me you sometimes wonder what life without Roethlisberger will resemble.
Rewind to the 2018 NFL Draft, and let me explain my excitement when the team selected Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph in the third round. For the first time, life without Big Ben seemed as if it was going to be okay.
No one in their right mind thought Rudolph would unseat Roethlisberger, but the hope was he would be able to learn under No. 7 before taking the reigns. While the first step is for him to actually beat out Joshua Dobbs for the team’s primary backup role, Roethlisberger’s new extension makes things very interesting for the former Oklahoma State product.
When Roethlisberger’s contract expires, so will Rudolph’s rookie deal. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Steelers. Throughout their internal evaluations, preseason games and any time spent in the lineup, if the Steelers organization likes what they have in Rudolph, and view him as the heir to the QB throne, they could give Rudolph an extension prior to 2021. Doing so would make him the man for the black-and-gold in the post-Roethlisberger era.
But there is more.
If Rudolph remains a relatively unknown commodity, the Steelers could keep him in the fold for relatively cheap. Roethlisberger’s cap hit will be just over $30 million his final two years with the team, and you can imagine the salary cap space which will be created when Roethlisberger’s contract leaves the books and Rudolph’s potential contract takes over.
Under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) where NFL rookies have slotted salaries, there is a long-standing belief the best time to win a Super Bowl is to get a quarterback under a cheap rookie deal before having to pay them their first big contract. Look at what the Los Angeles Rams are doing with Jared Goff. Goff is still under his first NFL contract, and the Rams are spending elsewhere trying to win before having to cap strap their roster with Goff’s first mega deal.
So, in the Steelers’ case, they could give Rudolph a very team-friendly deal, more than a rookie quarterback but certainly smaller than most quarterbacks moving into their second NFL contract, and be able to spend a lot of money to surround Rudolph with the best players to give them a chance at continued success.
These decisions are still a few years off, but don’t think the Steelers organization isn’t looking into the future and are concerned with the most important position in professional sports. When the team gave Antonio Brown his first big contract, the foresight got them one of the best receivers on the market for relatively cheap. The same foresight could help the team build a smooth bridge between Roethlisbeger and Rudolph.
But first Rudolph needs to win the backup position heading into the 2019 season...