National Football League

Ben Roethlisberger set for Pittsburgh Steelers return with reworked contract

February 24

The Big Ben offseason saga in Pittsburgh is closing in on a resolution, barring one major impediment.

Both Ben Roethlisberger's agent and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II released statements on the quarterback's situation, putting to rest weeks of uncertainty about his future.

Aside from a shared desire for Roethlisberger to return, the key takeaway from the statements is that the soon-to-be 39-year-old QB's contract requires a rework.

As it stands now, Roethlisberger carries a reported $41.3 million cap hit in 2021, a number that accounts for more than 22% of Pittsburgh's projected total cap, per OverTheCap.com.

The league has yet to officially announce 2021's salary cap, but all indications are that it will fall below 2020's total of $198.2 million, with OverTheCap projecting $185.5 million. Relatedly, the league has announced that the floor for team salaries will be $180 million.

Given those numbers, it's understandable that Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was less-than-committal last week when talking about Roethlisberger's status:

"He reiterated to us that he wants to continue to play. We told him we have to look at this current situation."

It's also understandable that the Steelers would want Big Ben back in the fold. The team was considered a Super Bowl contender for much of the 2020 season, especially after running out to an 11-0 start.

Roethlisberger ended the season with a 12-3 record in games started, throwing for 33 touchdowns and 3,803 yards after missing the bulk of 2019 because of season-ending elbow surgery.

However, the Steelers faded down the stretch and flamed out against the Cleveland Browns in the wild-card round, with Big Ben throwing four interceptions in a 48-37 loss.

Back to that contract, though ...

Front offices around the league make a lot of bones figuring out creative ways to work within the salary cap. Reducing Big Ben's $41.3 million to a more palatable number would take some finagling, but ESPN's Dan Graziano laid out a plan that could be satisfactory.

Under Graziano's plan, the Steelers get about $14 million in relief this season while in a sense kicking the can down the road and spreading out the financial impact of Roethlisberger's deal.

Roethlisberger wouldn't see a reduction in pay, and presumably, the team would be able to add or retain other important players for a Super Bowl run.

The return of the quarterback alone should get Steelers fans excited, former NFL standout Shaun O'Hara said on "Good Morning Football":

"They're absolutely contenders. ... I don't look at the Steelers and say, all right, Ben's back. That's it — Super Bowl or bust. It's gonna happen. But I will say, without Ben, this is a totally different Steelers offense. And I think that Ben coming back gives them the confidence. ... If you're a Steelers fan, you've gotta be excited about having Ben back."

FOX Sports NFL analyst Michael Vick also saw the appeal of Big Ben's return, saying, "I like Big Ben coming back for another year ⁠— 33 TDs to 10 INTS? Not too bad. Let him run it back one more time!"

However, not everyone is completely sold on the idea of Roethlisberger being a playoff-caliber starter. 

On Wednesday's episode of "Undisputed," LaVar Arrington offered that the Steelers could look at Roethlisberger as somewhat of a seat-warmer this season.

To Arrington, who made three Pro Bowls in his seven-year NFL career, Roethlisberger's presence allows the Steelers to get a good read on a young quarterback.

In this case, the young quarterback is 23-year-old Dwayne Haskins, who went 15th overall to the Washington Football Team in the 2019 NFL Draft but was released after Week 16 of the 2020 season.

Arrington's take might be more of a long-term view because if Roethlisberger plays like he did to start 2020, it's unlikely he'll see the bench.

However, if his productivity takes a dip, at least the Steelers have options.

Whatever the case might be in 2021, one question is basically settled: Big Ben will be back for at least one more ride.


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