It was no accident that, in an “exclusive” interview with the website he ultimately owns, Steelers president Art Rooney II declared that his most important employee, Ben Roethlisberger, won’t be getting a new contract until after the 2014 season. Obivously, the Steelers wanted to push their version — the practical equivalent of a press release — to the public before Roethlisberger had a chance to share his own narrative.
Roethlisberger has now shared his own narrative. And it goes a little something like this: I want $20 million per year.
He should. Lesser quarterbacks with fewer Super Bowl wins already get that much and more. Despite having an $18.895 million cap number pumped up by restructurings in past years that helped the team stay on the right side of the salary cap, Roethlisberger gets $12.1 million in 2014. Next year, the final season of his long-term contract, Ben will receive $11.6 million.
“Playing this year at my current salary, it’s kind of taking a hometown discount,” Roethlisberger told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I’ve played seven years on my current contract, which is the most of any [NFL] player or any quarterback. . . . It is kind of taking a discount compared to maybe where it could be compared to other quarterbacks.”
On one hand, no one forced Roethlisberger to commit through 2015. On the other hand, his currently resides well below market value. Although he has two years left on his contract, that’s typically when the Steelers have addressed quarterback deals in the past.
“Usually the Steelers do a quarterback deal with two years to go, which would be this year. . . . It’s kind of a unique thing,” Roethlisberger said.
He could have said a lot of words other than “unique.”
While Roethlisberger said he “prays” he can stay with the Steelers, he added that he must “do what’s best for his family.” That’s a mild adjustment to his comments from the 2013 season, when reports attributed to “Steelers sources” from the national network the Steelers partially own indicated that Roethlisberger possibly wanted to be trade, forcing Roethlisberger to declare that he never wants to leave.
Is it that crazy to think the Steelers may have leaked the information (before officially denying its accuracy, of course) in order to cajole from an angry Roethlisberger the kind of strong verbal commitment to stay that would make it a lot harder for him to threaten to leave if he doesn’t eventually get top dollar?
“I’d retire before I’d accept a trade,” Roethlisberger said at the time.
Whether that works remains to be seen. He told Robinson that the Broncos have built a Super Bowl team around Peyton Manning, despite paying him $15 million this year and carrying a cap charge of $17.5 million. With the salary cap going up $10 million in 2014 and expected to begin an annual series of spikes, the Steelers should be able to pay Roethlisberger market value.
Then again, the only way to get true market value is to get to the market. The Steelers hold Roethlisberger’s rights through 2015, and an $18.395 million cap number next year would drive his franchise tender to $22.074 million. If the Steelers opt for the exclusive version of the tag (which probably wouldn’t increase the tender beyond $22.074 million), Roethlisberger will have to play for the Steelers, or no one.
Under that formula, freedom may not come until 2017, when Roethlisberger would be due to make $26.4888 million, at a time when he’ll still be three years younger than Peyton Manning is right now.
It all becomes moot if the Steelers work Roethlisberger out to a long-term deal after the season. But if he believes he’s already giving the Steelers a hometown discount, he may not be inclined to do it again. Which could make it harder to find a middle ground that both sides find acceptable.