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Putting Ben Roethlisberger’s dead money hit in 2022 in perspective

Carrying dead money when a player is gone is never a good thing, but sometimes it is necessary.

Divisional Round - Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

With Ben Roethlisberger signing a new contract this past week, there is bound to be debate over how the numbers breakdown moving forward. Of course, Roethlisberger taking a $5 million pay cut is not something anyone should be complaining about as it shows he meant what he said about doing what is best for the team. Additionally, the fact Roethlisberger’s new contract only counts $3.66 million above what his cap hit would have been anyway, it seems to be a no brainer for the Steelers to make this deal.

Where all the trouble comes in is some people not being a fan of “kicking the can down the road” which refers to pushing dead money into future years. When talking about dead money, it is referring to funds already paid to the player in years past but count towards the salary cap in the future.

Unfortunately, the only way to lower the number of a large contract rather than to tear it up and try to get the player to sign a brand new one is to push money into future years. It’s one of the many ways NFL teams do business, and the Steelers have been using this feature for many seasons.

For Ben Roethlisberger‘s new contract, he is only tied to the Steelers for the 2021 season with four avoided years added on from 2022 to 2025. The way this works is it allows any bonus given to a player to be spread out more into future seasons where the player is not even under contract.

Rather than going to detail again about Roethlisberger‘s contract, the specifics of it can be viewed here:

So what about the dead money hit due to the Steelers because of these voidable years?

With Roethlisberger technically not under contract for 2022 because he has no base salary, I will be operating under the assumption that Ben Roethlisberger‘s last season in Pittsburgh is 2021. If Roethlisberger signs another deal in 2022, all these numbers associated with the void years will change.

So if Ben Roethlisberger rides into the sunset after this coming season, the Steelers will still carry a dead money salary cap hit of $10.34 million in 2022. While this number seems cringe worthy, it should be noted that if Rothlisberger would have called it a career after last season his dead money it would have been $22.25 million. Either way, these are not desirable numbers. But are they unreasonable?

To draw a better comparison, let’s look at five franchise quarterbacks in somewhat recent years and see what kind of dead money hit they left their teams as they either finished their career or moved on to another franchise.

Peyton Manning: $16 million (Colts), $2.5 million (Broncos)

2021 Hall of Fame inductee Peyton Manning is where we start off even though he has now been out of the NFL for five years. When the Indianapolis Colts decided to move on from Manning after he missed an entire season due to injury which gave them the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft, it left the Colts taking a $16 million dead money hit in 2012 while Manning was quarterbacking the Broncos. When Manning called it a career after the 2015 season, he walked away from a $19 million base salary but only left the Broncos with $2.5 million in dead money for 2016.

Eli Manning: $0 (Giants)

Not every franchise is able to work out their quarterback departure like the New York Giants. Keeping Eli Manning under contract for his entire 16 year career which included two Super Bowl victories, the Giants and Manning parted ways with no money left on the table. While it worked out well from a financial standpoint, it’s arguable that the Giants did not get much value for the $23.2 million against the salary cap in Manning’s final season. After starting two games, Manning was benched in favor of rookie Daniel Jones. Coming in for two more starts in Weeks 14 and 15, Manning did manage to win his final start of his NFL career before going back to reserve duty. Had the Giants simply cut ties with Manning after the 2018 season, they would’ve carried $6.2 million in dead money in 2019. Instead, Manning played out his contract and both sides decided it was the end of the road.

Tom Brady: $13.5 million (Patriots)

When the New England Patriots did not bring Tom Brady back for the 2020 season, they had void years remaining on his deal at the time. As Brady took his $25 million with the Buccaneers, he also cost the patriots $13.5 million against the 2020 salary cap. With his new deal in Tampa, Brady has not have a signing bonus so he isn’t due to cost any dead money should 2021 be his last season in Tampa with his current contract.

Philip Rivers: $0 (Chargers), $0 (Colts)

The only person on this list who has not won a Super Bowl, Rivers never even made it to the big game. Perhaps this is an indication as to why he didn’t cost either of his teams beyond his time with the Chargers and Colts. Rivers’ contract simply ran out with the chargers in 2019 without any void years being involved. Signing just a one-year deal with the Colts last season, Rivers was off the books with both teams he played for once he left town.

Drew Brees: TBD

After leaving the San Diego Chargers year following a year on the franchise tag, Drew Brees has played 15 seasons in New Orleans. There is much speculation about his retirement this year, so much so he has dropped his $25 million salary for 2021 down to the league minimum. This was not done for Brees to play this season but to reduce his salary cap hit until June so the Saints can spread the dead money over two seasons instead taking it all in 2021. With Brees looking to cost $22.65 million in dead money this season if he doesn’t return to the Saints, spreading the hit out to over $11 million each season for 2021 and 2022 is much easier to deal with but still the worst situation of any quarterbacks covered here.

After looking at these five players, the $10.34 million the Steelers look to most likely have to count on the salary cap in 2022 is smaller than the numbers Tom Brady cost of the Patriots, Peyton Manning cost the Colts, and Drew Brees will eventually cost the Saints. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Steelers will have a situation like either Philip Rivers or Eli Manning where they did not cost their team anything upon their departure. But looking at these two situations, Rivers never brought his franchise a championship and played for a different team his final season while Eli Manning was relegated to a back up for the majority of his final season.

The bottom line is Ben Roethlisberger is not costing the Steelers an outlandish dead money cap hit if 2021 is his final year when compared to other situations with quarterbacks moving on from their teams.