“I just get the feeling this isn’t going to go down real easy. I could be wrong. I could be totally wrong … but I don’t know that they are fully embracing his return,” said Bouchette, referring to the Steelers organization as a whole.
“Art Rooney said several times there has got to be some discussions on this and that just leads me to believe that these [discussions] aren’t going to be easy,” added Bouchette, who notes that Rooney hasn’t wholeheartedly said: ‘We want Ben back. We’ll be able to work this out.’
Instead Rooney advised that “We couldn’t have him back under the current contract.”
Money and Personnel Could Be Sticking Points
That said, the first issue that the parties will have to agree upon is compensation.
“I know he said he didn’t care about his salary but I don’t believe that for a minute,” said Bouchette, referring to Roethlisberger. “I believe they are going to have to pay him where he is not going to be embarrassed to come back and play. And I just don’t know if this is all going to work out, and I’ve been told it still might not.”
Roethlisberger is due to receive a $15 million roster bonus right after the start of the new league year on March 17, the de facto deadline for a decision on whether he will return.
It’s highly unlikely the Steelers will pay that roster bonus. If he’s coming back for another year, the Steelers would want to sign Big Ben to a new contract with voidable years, one that would convert the roster bonus into a signing bonus that could be spread over three or four seasons. That would also allow Roethlisberger and his agent to announce a big new contract extension. Never mind that the contract would void after the 2021 season.
The other issue that could be a sticking point when the parties meet during the week after the Super Bowl is roster construction. It’s possible that Roethlisberger will want assurances that certain players—like center Maurkice Pouncey—will be back for another year, and the Steelers may not want some of those players back.
Bouchette points out that Roethlisberger won’t have much leverage in negotiations, unless he is ready, willing and able to go to another team.
“I don’t know that Ben is going to go anywhere else,” said Bouchette, who doesn’t believe that Roethlisberger would want to go to a new team and learn a new offensive system so he could play one more year.
“Now Philip Rivers did that, so hey, when these musical chairs of quarterbacks end here, and when one team, let’s say the Colts, is left without one, maybe they would be interested.”
The Steelers Quarterback Room in 2021
Ultimately, Bouchette believes the Steelers would be best-served by moving on from Roethlisberger and utilizing 2021 as a transition year.
“I think they are better off maybe looking at Mason Rudolph for a year, [Dwayne] Haskins, and whoever else they have,” he said. “They’d have to sign someone else and go through next season and gather all their information and decide if 2022 is the year to go big-time after a quarterback, whether it’s in the draft or however else.”
Bouchette also doesn’t discount the possibility that the Steelers would use a premium pick on a quarterback in the 2021 draft.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they draft a quarterback in the first round this year,” he added. “I don’t know that they will. But if a guy they like falls to them or is close to falling to them and they think he is their guy, go get him. There are a lot of quarterbacks out there that I think are going to be pretty good who are in college this year. The guy from North Dakota State [Trey Lance] is pretty good….
“But there are a lot of teams in need of quarterbacks too. It may not work out this year.”
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