In the immediate aftermath of Pittsburgh’s embarrassing playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers seemed ‘optimistic’ that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would be back for the 2021 season. But today that outcome seems more and more in doubt.
In late January team president Art Rooney II stated that the Steelers “can’t have [Roethlisberger] back” under his current contract. More recently, a Steelers insider related some of the reasons why Roethlisberger’s return “still might not work out.”
Kevin Colbert on Ben Roethlisberger’s Future
On Wednesday, the situation seemed to get murkier still.
“As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said general manager Kevin Colbert, this according to ESPN staff writer Brooke Pryor. “He reiterated to us that he wants to continue to play. We told him we have to look at this current situation.”
Pryor notes that the use of the qualifier “as we sit here today” is “almost never a good sign” and similar to when Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay said Jared Goff was the Rams’ QB “right now.”
Of course, Goff was subsequently traded to the Detroit Lions—along with two first-round picks and a third-round pick—in exchange for Matthew Stafford.
The Steelers Must Be Salary Cap Compliant by March 17
On Wednesday Colbert noted that the team’s first order of business is to get in compliance with the salary cap, which the club must do by March 17th—the start of the new league year.
At the moment, the Steelers are more than $30.6 million over the cap, per OvertheCap.com. As such the Steelers are going to have to release multiple players and/or restructure multiple player contracts to get in compliance.
After that the Steelers will make “guesstimates as to what we can do to put the best team together for our sake and for Ben’s sake,” said Colbert, who is aware as anyone that the Steelers have 19 unrestricted free agents, few of whom are likely to be retained.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Colbert added. “I’m sure he’s going to want to see what type of team we can keep together under our current situation. Hopefully we can all make the correct adjustments to keep the group together as much as possible.”
That was one of many hopeful-sounding statements that Colbert sprinkled throughout the conversation on Wednesday.
“Hopefully there’s a way that we can try to figure out and do what’s best for the organization and do what’s best for Ben. Hopefully he’ll be able to see that and feel the same way we do. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not only with Ben, with the whole unrestricted free-agent class and our whole cap situation as well.”
Ben Roethlisberger’s Albatross of a Contract
If Roethlisberger retires or is released, he will count $22.25 million against the 2021 salary cap, this as compared to his current cap number of $41.2 million. If the team opts to give him an extension and convert his base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus spread out over multiple years, the most the team can reduce his cap hit to is $27.125 million.
Notably, Big Ben will turn 39 years old in early March and the other franchise quarterbacks from his draft class—namely Eli Manning and Philip Rivers—have already retired, as have almost all of the other players from the 2004 class.
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