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Salary cap ramifications if the Steelers decide to dump Ben Roethlisberger in 2020

The Steelers turn their attention away from Ben Roethlisberger and towards Mason Rudolph for the rest of 2019. If Rudolph plays well enough, what would the cap implications be of getting rid of Roethlisberger?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Pittsburgh Steelers Photo: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

There was a lot of crazy chatter on the BTSC forums regarding Ben Roethlisberger and his season-ending elbow surgery that he will have this week. “Dump Big Ben after the season”, or “Trade Roethlisberger in the offseason”, or “He should just retire.” Some Steelers fans are chomping at the bit to move on and start the Mason Rudolph,or someone else, era in 2020. So let’s all hop on this crazy train and dive into the salary cap implications of moving on from Roethlisberger in 2020.

The clock is ticking...

The offseason is a long ways away and March is even further away. March 13 is the deadline for decisions to be made regarding Roethlisberger’s future with the Steelers. Why March 13? Because of Big Ben’s new contract he signed this past April, he is due a roster bonus of $12.5 million on the third day of the 2020 league year. I can’t imagine the Steelers paying the bonus if they plan on releasing him. There may be pressure from the team for Roethlisberger to decide if retirement talks start bubbling to the surface again.

Roethlisberger’s contract after 2019

2020: $8,500,000 base salary, $12,500,000, prorated signing bonus, $12,500,000 roster bonus, cap hit $33,500,000.

2021: $4,000,000 base salary, $12,500,000 prorated signing bonus, $15,000,000 roster bonus, cap hit $31,500,000.

What happens if the Steelers trade Big Ben?

The assumption will be that any type of trade would occur prior to the third day of the new league year. Could this happen? You all can duke that out in the comments section below. He could be traded with the team taking on a little risk. Steelers fans saw with the Antonio Brown trade that prorated signing bonus money that has been paid out remains with the team that trades the player away. Because of the prorated signing bonus has been paid out, $25 million would remain with the Steelers. While the team would have $25 million in dead money, $8.5 million would be saved. Whichever team trades for Roethlisberger gets a player with no guaranteed money in his contract and cap friendly cap hits of $21 million in 2020 and $19 million in 2021.

What happens if Roethlisberger retires, or is cut?

Both have the same implications, therefore they are being lumped together. That being said, again the Steelers would look to resolve this before the future HOF quarterback’s roster bonus triggers. Just like above, the cap hit for either would be $25 million due to the prorated signing bonus immediately counting.

If Big Ben retires could the Steelers go after his signing bonus and get cap relief? If he could pass a physical, they could. (The Detroit Lions recouped $1 million from Calvin Johnson.) Would the Steelers? Not likely. If he is not healthy, the team could not go after his signing bonus. (The Indianapolis Colts declined to go after Andrew Luck’s prorated signing bonus.)

The Steelers could get cap relief by designating Roethlisberger as a post-June 1 cut and spread the cap hit over 2020 and 2021, right? Wrong. Normally a team can cut a player in March and designate him to spread the cap hit over two seasons. But 2020 is not a normal season because of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expiring after 2020. There is no post-June 1 cut designation. (There are other quirks in the 2020 offseason and the above is assuming a new CBA does not get hammered out which is unlikely.)

Steelers Nation is reeling by the season-ending injury to the 37-year-old. Some have already closed the book on his Steelers career while others have written him off ever playing again in the NFL. This is so premature, but it is understandable fans have started the debate on what may be a lost season with the team standing at 0-2 with a quarterback at the helm with 112 yards passing in the NFL. Rudolph’s productivity in 2019 could leave the Steelers with a tough choice unless Rudolph implodes. If he implodes, the Steelers will have tough choices.