I read a solid article by Micheal Beck the other day discussing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his contract for 2021 and the importance of a contract extension to lower his salary cap number. If the NFL salary cap contracts from the 2020 figure of $198 million down to the projected $175 million amount, Pittsburgh would have to cut $22.5 million in salary by mid-March to get cap compliant according to OTC The six-time Pro Bowler would account for 23% of the team’s salary cap with his $41 million cap hit. What can be done to change that figure?
Before we get into what the options are, we need to look at the structure of his contract and what they can move around and what cannot.
Base Salary (P5) $4 million: The veteran minimum for players over 10 years of service is $1.3 million, so only $2.7 million can be spread out in future years. Not guaranteed.
Prorated signing bonus $22,250,000: This is money that has already been paid out and cannot under any circumstances be shifted to future years. Fully guaranteed and is the dead money amount.
Roster bonus $15,000,000: Not guaranteed so can be shifted towards future years.
2021 cap number: $41.25 million
Cap savings if cut, traded, or retires: $19 million
Scenario #1: Ask Roethlisberger to take a pay cut
In reality, the Steelers could ask Roethlisberger to take a straight pay cut. If he would agree to such a move, the team would save $17.7 million against the cap if he would agree to a max value cut. The 38-year-old has always received market value contracts and I would put the possibility of him taking a full pay cut at zero.
Scenario #2 Trade Roethlisberger
Cap savings would be $19 million while dead money would stand at $22.25 million. Depending on how the 2020 season transpires would affect the trade market for a 39-year-old quarterback.
Scenario #3 Cut Roethlisberger
Cap savings would be $19 million while dead money would stand at $22.25 million. If the future HOF QB ends up being injured or a shell of himself, this could be a real possibility.
Scenario #4 Contract extension
A contract extension can be exceedingly tricky to pull off before the 2021 season because of how it would have to be structured. How much new signing bonus money would be included if any? How much of his 2021 non-guaranteed money would be shifted to the future?
I will use the blueprint of his last contract extension (An additional two years tacked on past 2021) as the framework for a new contract. Will he ask for another $37.5 million signing bonus? He has never taken a hometown discount, but for this exercise he does and gets $19 million for a signing bonus. He will also convert $17 million from 2021 P5 salary into a signing bonus for cap relief purposes for a total of $36 million.
I did not include the structure in future years because they do not matter for this exercise. I am trying to show not only his cap hit for 2021 but the ginormous amount of prorated signing bonus money in future years as well.
How would his new extension look for 2021?
Base salary: $1.7 million
Prorated signing bonus for 2021: $34.25 million (this includes the $22.25 million mentioned before which the team cannot escape, then would be $12 each additional year))
2021 cap hit: $35.95 million
Cap saving: $5.3 million
Even if Roethlisberger were to bypass that $19 million in new signing bonus money under this scenario, his 2021 cap number would decrease by $11.33 in 2021.
I do not think he would accept either scenario as he has taken nothing less than market value from the team. His 2015 contract made him the second highest paid quarterback by the annual average and topped the list in terms of guaranteed money. His last extension made him the third highest paid quarterback in the NFL.
If Roethlisberger were to get a $40 million signing bonus and shift $17 million of P5 money into the signing bonus, his 2021 cap would remain the same.
I made no bones about not liking his last extension, nor am I a fan of the team offering a new one. I dread thinking about life after Roethlisberger, but I hate thinking about dismantling the team to keep an aging quarterback with an extensive injury history.