Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger‘s red eyes and wet cheeks said plenty about his future. His decision to linger on the bench long after the game ended said plenty about his future. When he met with the media via video conference after Sunday night’s playoff loss to the Browns, Roethlisberger didn’t say much about his future.
“Well it’s gonna start between me and God,” Roethlisberger said regarding the looming decision on whether to continue to play. “A lot of praying. And then, you know, a lot of talking with my family, discussions, decisions. And, you know, I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers want me back, if that’s the way we go. There’ll be a lot of discussions, but now’s not the time for that.”
The reference to having a year left on his contract, and to the Steelers wanting him back, likely wasn’t an accident. Roethlisberger has received $12.5 million that he hasn’t yet earned; if he retires, the Steelers have the right to ask for all of it back. If they cut him, he owes nothing.
“I hope the Steelers want me back,” he said. His cap number of $41.25 million becomes official on March 17, at a time when the total team spending limit may be as low as $175 million. If they want him back, they need to him sign an extension that kicks the cap can to a future year.
What if he says, “I’m just going to play out my contract”? The Steelers may have to release him in order to reduce his cap charge by $19 million. And then he’d become a free agent, able to sign with a new team if he wants.
It’s impossible to envision Roethlisberger in any other uniform. Just like it was impossible to envision Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or Brett Favre or Philip Rivers in any other uniform. Maybe Ben will decide that he wants to keep playing, but that he wants a fresh start.
These are the options: (1) retire; (2) play; (3) force a release in order to avoid owing $12.5 million and retire; or (4) force a release and sign with another team.
It’s a story that will hover over the team and the league for the next two months. And if the Steelers end up moving on, they’d better have a solid fallback plan at the position or they could be left in the AFC North’s dust, given that the division features star quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, and Joe Burrow.