On Tuesday afternoon Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger met with team president Art Rooney II and that the meeting “went well,” according to his sources.
Hours later, NFL Network reporter Aditi Kinkhabwala connected with Roethlisberger’s agent, Ryan Tollner, who indicated that the Steelers “want Ben back and will contact me soon to address his cap situation.”
Tollner went on to say that the Roethlisberger camp is “happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible.”
He also indicated that Pittsburgh’s lousy finish to the 2020 season “doesn’t sit well” with Roethlisberger, and that Big Ben believes he has “plenty of gas in the tank.”
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) February 23, 2021
The news from Tollner is something of a surprise, as in recent weeks it has seemed that the Steelers were signaling to Roethlisberger that he ought to think about retirement. For one, general manager Kevin Colbert has sounded less than enthusiastic about the prospect of Roethlisberger returning for an 18th NFL season.
Meanwhile, a number of Big Ben’s former teammates—including Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor—have urged Roethlisberger to retire. For his part, Clark believes Roethlisberger has no chance of leading the Steelers back to a Super Bowl, while Taylor thinks that a Roethlisberger-led team won’t be competitive with the other clubs in the AFC North, all of whom have dynamic young quarterbacks.
Ben Roethlisberger’s Contract and Necessary Adjustments
In order for Big Ben to come back in 2021, the Steelers still need to adjust Roethlisberger’s contract before the de facto deadline of March 17th. That’s when the new league year begins and when Roethlisberger’s scheduled $41.25 million salary cap charge becomes official.
At the moment, Roethlisberger is slated to receive a $15 million roster bonus on the third day of the new league year, plus $4 million in salary in 2021.
Most likely the team will give him a contract extension and convert his base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus that can be spread out over multiple ‘voidable’ years. But if he returns in 2021, the most the team can reduce his cap hit to is $27.125 million.
‘Dead Money’ Will Be a Significant Hindrance in 2021
Meanwhile, the amount of “dead money” on Pittsburgh’s cap is likely to be dramatically higher in 2021 than in was in 2020, when eight players accounted for a little more than $9 million in dead money, led by linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Donte Moncrief.
For starters, recently-retired center Maurkice Pouncey is going to count $6,475,000 on the team’s 2021 salary cap, and retired tight end Vance McDonald will take up another $2,727,500. The Steelers will likely need to release additional players in order to come into compliance with the 2021 cap, which is expected to be set at $180 million—or perhaps a few million dollars higher.
As for the aforementioned lousy end to this past season: In 2020 Pittsburgh got off to a franchise-best 11-0 start but went on to lose four of its last five regular season games. Then the team capped off the year with a 48-37 defeat to the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the playoffs. The first half of that contest looked an awful lot like Dan Marino’s last NFL game, and convinced many Steelers fans that it’s time for Big Ben to retire.
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