“I think we’ve been upfront with Ben in letting him know we couldn’t have him back under his current contract,” said Steelers team president, Art Rooney II, in his annual end-of-season talk with the media on Thursday.
Rooney, of course, was talking about veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and his $41 million cap hit for 2021.
Yikes, just reading that statement from Rooney gives me flashbacks to the few times I’ve heard “We need to talk” during the course of my adult life—that rarely ends well.
But sometimes it does and a love-affair can continue.
Thankfully, when Art II made that statement about his 17-year, two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, he also stated that he’d like to have him back but at a reduced cap price for 2021. The Steelers, as is usually the case, are in cap hell and would like some ice water in the form of a contract renegotiation with Roethlisberger. From his side of things, Roethlisberger appears to be leaning toward returning for an 18th season and said in a text exchange with Ed Bouchette, a long-time Steelers insider currently with The Athletic, that he doesn’t care about his 2021 salary.
But does that mean Roethlisberger will come back at an actual reduced price or an artificial one in the form of a contract extension that will prorate what the team owes him for 2021—$19 million—over the course of the next few seasons?
I’m guessing the latter. If it’s the former, Roethlisberger might be playing next season but for a different team.
No, if the Steelers were ready to move on from Roethlisberger, they wouldn’t be asking him to take a literal pay-cut. They’d simply encourage him to retire or do the unthinkable and release him, thus saving themselves all $19 million. What would be the point of paying a man any kind of salary—even a reduced figure—if you think he is washed up? If you’re convinced Roethlisberger is done, you might as well pay Mason Rudolph the $1 million he’s owed on the final year of his rookie deal to be your quarterback next season.
Clearly, the Steelers still think their franchise quarterback for the past 17 years can be their franchise quarterback for an 18th.
This is good news. Now that we know both parties are willing to do what it takes to work together for another season, that’s the first step. And if they’re both publicly stating they are willing to come to a compromise, I think it’s a mere formality that they work something out.
Roethlisberger will be the Steelers’ quarterback for 2021. How much savings this contract renegotiation nets them is unclear, but it should be enough to allow them to do other business and tweak other areas of their roster.
I realize this is an unpopular opinion among many Steelers’ faithful (for some strange reason), but of all the quarterbacks currently on the roster, Roethlisberger gives the team the best chance to compete in 2021. As for the quarterbacks not on the roster that folks have been eyeing from afar—Deshaun Watson, Matthew Stafford and Carson Wentz come to mind—one is totally unrealistic, one has already been dealt, while the other one might not make the Steelers much better.
Money might not be a huge deal for Watson next season, but after that, his salary goes up big time. Besides, what would Pittsburgh have to give up in a trade to acquire him? And when it comes to Wentz, do the Steelers want to make any sort of financial commitment to someone who has seemingly fallen out of favor with his current team for various reasons?
As for Stafford? He was traded to the Rams, so at least that takes one such pipedream out of the equation.
For those clamoring for Roethlisberger to be gone, easy now. Take a look at the history of the NFL. How many quarterbacks of Roethlisberger’s caliber have been replaced with quarterbacks of Roethlisberger’s caliber? The answer is, not many.
You might be ready for the Steelers to blow it all up and start a rebuild, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why. Sports are entertainment, and the Steelers have always been about putting the best possible product on the field. You might say that they could re-sign players like Bud Dupree, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mike Hilton if they allowed Roethlisberger to walk; however, those players were here without No. 7 in 2019, and all it netted Pittsburgh was eight victories.
A rebuild sounds nice in January, but it’s hell to witness in November. The Steelers will move on eventually and begin their future, but that future figures to be bleak for a lot longer than many realize once Roethlisberger is gone.
But we don’t have to witness that bleak future just yet. The Steelers and their franchise quarterback are still willing to work together for another season.
I think that’s something to be excited about.