Should the Steelers Rework Ben Roethlisberger’s Contract Before It Voids?

Ben Roethlisberger

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers before the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs on January 16, 2022.

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger announced his retirement on January 27, 2022, but his impact on the team’s salary cap will continue to be felt next season. When Roethlisberger agreed to a new contract in early March of last year, his 2021 cap hit was reduced from $41.25 million to $25.91 million. As part of the restructuring, the team added four voidable years to his contract, allowing them to spread his signing bonus through the 2025 season. But as noted by overthecap.com, because of his retirement, all $10.34 million of that prorated signing bonus is scheduled to count as dead money on the team’s 2022 cap.

Assuming Roethlisberger is amenable, the Steelers could push the vast majority of the $10.34 million off until next year by reworking his deal and having him wait until after June 1 to officially retire, something that Jason Fitzgerald (founder of OverTheCap.com) expects to see happen.

In that scenario, the Steelers would take a dead cap charge of only $2.585 million in 2022, with $7.775 million in dead money deferred until 2023. But a reworked deal would have to be completed within the next several weeks; according to Peter King of NBC Sports, Roethlisberger’s agreement is set to void five days after Super Bowl LVI, which will be played on February 13.

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JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eric Ebron, Too

If you’re wondering why the Steelers might not want to absorb the entire $10.34 million in 2022 and be done with it, it’s because there are several other Steelers players in the same boat as Roethlisberger.

That includes wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who signed a one-year, $8 million contract with the Steelers in March 2021 that pushed much of the financial liability into the future. Much like Roethlisberger’s deal, Smith-Schuster’s contract includes four voidable years, in effect spreading his $7 million signing bonus over five seasons, with only 20% of that amount accounted for in 2021 and the rest ($5.6 million) scheduled to hit the books in 2022.

Of course, there’s a good chance that Smith-Schuster will re-sign with the Steelers yet again—a report that he hopes to join the Kansas City Chiefs notwithstanding—but that would only add to Smith-Schuster’s total cap charge.

Finally, there’s tight end Eric Ebron—a pending unrestricted free agent who finished the season on the injured reserve list with a knee injury—who had four voidable years added to his deal when his contract was restructured in March 2021. By converting $4.88 million in (2021) salary to a signing bonus, the Steelers pushed $3.904 million in dead money onto the team’s 2022 salary cap.

The Steelers have no plans to re-sign Ebron, as 2021 second-round pick Pat Freiermuth has the potential to be the team’s starter for the next decade. Beyond that the club also has 2019 fifth-round pick Zach Gentry under contract for another year, with third-stringer Kevin Rader still in development and former Packers third-round pick Jace Sternberger signed to a Reserve/Future contract to compete with Gentry and Rader.


2022 Dead Money as Compared to Prior Years

Add up the money and you see that Roethlisberger, Smith-Schuster and Ebron are set to count $19.844 million against Pittsburgh’s 2022 salary cap, with 2021 sixth-round pick Quincy Roche (released on August 31, 2021) adding $109,932 in dead money and Melvin Ingram (traded to Kansas City for a 2022 sixth-round pick in November of last year) accounting for yet another $2.34 million.

Assuming my math is correct, that’s upwards of $22.3 million in cap dollars for players no longer on the team, with the possible exception of Smith-Schuster. That’s approximately 10.7% of the expected 2022 salary cap, which is projected to be $208.2 million.

How does this compare to years past? Keeping in mind that there is no doubt more dead money coming in 2022, the Steelers absorbed $29,330,189 in 2021 (according to overthecap.com), with the largest amounts attributed to center Maurkice Pouncey (retired), cornerback Steven Nelson (contract terminated) and offensive guard David DeCastro (released). That was approximately 16% of 2021’s $182.5 million salary cap.

In 2020, the Steelers were relatively efficient, with eight players accounting for little more than $9 million in dead money as the season approached. This as compared to 2019, when former Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown accounted for $21.12 million in dead money all by his lonesome.

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