Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger are moving forward together, like it or not
Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers have reached a new deal for the 2021 NFL season.
The deal includes a reduction in Roethlisberger’s pay from $19 million to $14 million and clears $15 million in cap space.
This is the final year of Roethlisberger’s contract, and his cash payments will be spread through 2022.
Some criticized the deal, particularly in light of Roethlisberger's declining play as the 2020 season progressed. Why bring him back, the argument went, if he is no longer a great quarterback? Isn't it time for the Steelers to move on and prepare for the future?
Mike Tannenbaum of ESPN went so far as to say that the deal is actually a hindrance to the progress of the franchise.
"This is a bad decision this year and even worse next year," Tannenbaum said. "Last year, he was 30th in the league in yards per pass attempt. And that matches the film. He can’t get the ball down the field. You are stopping progress. … They can’t win a championship this year with him, and they’re stopping progress in 2022 by having him back this season."
The counterargument is that by cutting the franchise quarterback’s salary, the Steelers save around $15 million of cap space in 2021, which can help them retain upcoming free agents such as receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and linebacker Bud Dupree. Why not try to squeeze another year out of Big Ben in the meantime?
Nick Wright, speaking on "First Things First," said the Steelers effectively trapped themselves in 2019. That's when they traded a first-round draft pick — which could have been used to select their future quarterback — for Minkah Fitzpatrick. Roethlisberger was injured at the time, and Fitzpatrick, while a great player, does not play quarterback.
"That was the clear signal that they think, 'We are not ready to transition. We are not ready to take the unexpected opportunity of our quarterback going down to just have a bad year and to get the next quarterback in the building,'" Wright said. "In fact, they doubled down on that team."
In the same segment, Brandon Marshall noted that the Steelers are not an organization that makes big splashes by chasing big-name quarterbacks, so Big Ben might be the team's best option.
Given that the Steelers are moving forward with Roethlisberger, how can they make the best of this situation?
One way, according to ESPN's Louis Riddick, would be to bolster their offensive line to take some pressure off their aging signal-caller.
"The No. 1 thing they need to do is fix this offensive line because that’s where they believe that everything started to crumble from the inside out on this football team late in the year last year," Riddick said. "And they couldn’t maintain any semblance of balance and take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger … That’s where a huge part of their focus will be this year."
Big Ben will be returning for his 18th NFL season in 2021 — and taking a pay cut to do so — after throwing 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions the previous season.
Even with the cut, the Steelers have a difficult situation ahead of them. They have 19 unrestricted free agents, some of whom they want to keep.
With the future a bit uncertain, we’ll have to wait to see what direction Pittsburgh heads for the 2021 season and beyond.