Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger are at a clear crossroads

Wild Card Round - Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
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When running back Jerome Bettis returned for one more year with the Steelers, it made sense. They had a team that was close to winning a Super Bowl and, in that one more year, they did.

As the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continue to contemplate the possibility of one more year together, here’s some free advice to both of them: Don’t do it.

The 2021 Steelers aren’t close enough to a Super Bowl to make one more year worth it. The 2021 Steelers have too many issues, thanks to the convergence of a shrinking salary cap and years of kicking the cap can.

Already faced with a minimum reckoning of $22.25 million related to past cap hocus-pocus played with Roethlisberger’s contract, the Steelers need to figure out how much larger Big Ben’s cap number can be for 2021 while still having a competent team around him.

He has said, “I don’t care about my pay at all this year.” Even if he reduces his compensation from $19 million all the way to the league minimum of $1.075 million, he’d consume $23.325 million in cap space. As previously outlined, an extension that converts his pay over $1.075 million into a signing bonus allows Ben to get his $19 million while keeping the cap number at $26.73 million — assuming a three-year extension.

The Steelers apparently are waiting to do something for one very simple reason: they don’t know what the 2021 cap number will be. Which means that they don’t know how much money they’ll need to sign their other players, or to attract free agents in whom they may be interested.

The problem for the Steelers comes from the fact that, on March 19, Roethlisberger earns a $15 million roster bonus. So the Steelers will have to move quickly with Ben’s contract, once they know what the cap will be. Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has said that may not happen until hours before all teams must be under it.

The best move, assuming the Steelers keep Roethlisberger, would be to work out in advance a series of tentative agreements based on the final cap number, with different salaries or restructurings if it’s $175 million (it can be no lower), $176 million, $177 million, $178 million, and so on, all the way to the 2020 number of $198.2 million. Then, once the cap is set, Ben’s deal gets re-done based on the predetermined revision to the contract.

That apparently hasn’t happened. Maybe it won’t. Maybe the Steelers are simply looking for the right way to move on from Roethlisberger, without being perceived as the villain.

Indeed, if they agree with the objective assessment that a Super Bowl run is unlikely in 2021 (given the presence of teams like the Chiefs, Bills, Ravens, and — yes — Browns), it makes plenty of sense to remove the Band-Aid in one motion and begin figuring out the post-Ben future of the franchise.

Whatever the plan, they’ll need a good one. With Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow, and Baker Mayfield in the AFC North, the Steelers could quickly get lost in the dust in their division if they try to go forward with Mason Rudolph or Dwayne Haskins or whoever they manage to find in free agency.

Regardless, a decision to keep Roethlisberger could lead to regret. Even if he stays healthy all year long, it could be a long year for a Steelers team that will look a lot different than it did in 2020, due to the current shrinking of the cap and the past cap liberties the Steelers had taken. Maybe it makes more sense to see what Rudolph and/or Haskins can do in 2021, and then to look for the next Ben in the 2022 draft, if necessary.

44 responses to “Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger are at a clear crossroads

  1. A couple of months ago people were talking about Pittsburgh running he table and going 19-0.

  2. I could see Ben wanting to stick around for a year if only the rest of the team was a little bit better.

  3. I love how people that have zero experience managing a team or the cap think they know more about the people paid to make the decisions.

  4. Speak for yourself. Some of us know how to do math and apparently some GM’s think like the US Congress…

  5. The Steelers have had 5 losing seasons in the last 50 years and have not won less than 5 games in a season in that span. They must know a little bit of how to do some things right.

  6. As the Baltimore fan I hate this Steelers. I miss the days of the Steelers Ravens rivalry being smash mouth. Now it’s more of a dust-up.

  7. Steelers are between a rock and a hard place. If they keep Ben then he gets 15 million on March 15th, even with a new contract he’s going to add 23 to 26 million against the 2021 cap. Might be best to cut him and take the cap hit and work towards 2022.

  8. Not buying it. Steelers are always a contender with 7 and that defense especially with Devin Bush in the mix. If they can just get rid of Tomlin or Butler.

  9. Nah only people thinking 19-0 were steeler fans. They all did this to themselves. His style of play was done years ago. They never got any plan together. Own it. Pay him.

  10. I don’t want the Steelers to suck. It just doesn’t seem right when they’re not winning. A legacy sports franchise

  11. “Let the stidham decade of dominance begin!”

    This will never stop being funny. They seriously thought that!!

  12. The question from a monetary standpoint is why would they keep him? Sentimentality in the NFL is over when cap hits are this large.

  13. On a side note, the salary cap is un American.
    Why don’t owners just pay players whatever they want?.

  14. Steelers fan here. Steelers have been behind the 8 ball on the cap for as long as I remember. Might be good to clear the air and get out from under. Roethlisberger has done a lot for the team, but he’s a little beyond his “best before” date. The team seriously needs to use its available money to rebuild its O line. Another year of Roethlisberger behind a mediocre O line, without Pouncey, will result in a lot of lost games.

  15. Don’t be shocked if they make a day one trade up for a QB. If they can secure a feasible move up to 10 or so and not deplete their bundle of future picks it’s absolutely not outside the realm of possibility.

  16. vikinghooper says:
    February 17, 2021 at 7:57 pm
    On a side note, the salary cap is un American.
    Why don’t owners just pay players whatever they want?.
    Really? I guess you’d have no problem with Billionaire owners, or large city markets always having the best teams.

  17. Their fans will still be obnoxious, but I might actually be able to root for the Steelers once in a while if Ben leaves.

  18. mjchockey1 says:
    February 17, 2021 at 5:25 pm
    I love how people that have zero experience managing a team or the cap think they know more about the people paid to make the decisions.
    Fair point, but many of the people paid to make those decisions obviously don’t know how to manage a cap that well, either. And I can recall a few times “cap experts” were hired and those decisions were criticized for being numbers guys (which, idk, might make sense for managing numbers-based decisions, but what do I know) and not “football guys.”

  19. I remember when the cap started and franchise QBs were being released over $3 million salaries.

  20. Everyone is so quick to write off Mason Rudolph. the dude came in as a econd-year backup 3rd round pick to toss 13 TDs and 9 INTs and connection on over 62% of his passes when Ben went down in 2019. And, honestly, he had one bad game against Cleveland, where he threw 4 picks. Otherwise, he looked decent the whole season.

    Give him time with the starters in training camp, and he may show significant improvement.

    Haskins is another east writeoff for everyone. The guy was a stud in college and came out as the most pro-ready college QB that year. He drew the unlucky card of playing in the toxic dump that is Washington. With the right coaching and mentors to learn from, that raw talent could be easily brought back.

    Ben was OK until teams found out he had no deep ball and no running game to fall back on. I love Ben, and he’s given us years of entertainment and elite QB play, but it’s time for him to step away.

    Let Haskins and Rudolph battle it out. And maybe even throw Dobbs in the mix to see what he can do. Just don’t immediately push Rudolph or Haskins aside as failures. One had decent success in all but one game in 2019. The other was young, impressionable kid thrust into a toxic situation.

  21. If the Steelers organization is as well managed as I have always thought it was, then they will know this is the time to cut Ben loose. His skills are diminishing and they need the cap space to rebuild. Let the Colts have him.

  22. People talk about JJ Watt going there, this is a sinking ship, get ready for the Mason Rudolph error

  23. Ravens fan — I want to see the Steelers improve because I like the years when it’s Ravens vs. Steelers in a hotly contested division (I realize the Steelers won the div. this year, but everyone knows the wheels were coming off). Unfortunately, it might take a bad year for you guys to get a high enough draft pick to get the next Ben, but I’d love to see the Steelers get their next generational qb. Would be great to have four legit quarterbacks in our division — no easy wins.

  24. The Steelers have a pretty sound roster as they not only draft well but also develop talent. Ben’s performance was not good and the O line was even worse. I would prefer they move on from Ben and work on the line and the run game and have a qb that can move and not have to throw the ball in 2 seconds every play. As long as the salary cap is going down it makes sense to make the qb move now.

  25. Considering they need a top tackle and a center in the draft – among other needs – I’m not sure they have the leverage to move up to be able to draft a first-round QB. They could be stuck. Ben looked like a statue out there at times last season, and the blocking was not good.

  26. Tomlin inherited a Super Bowl caliber coaching staff and roster. It’s been nothing but downhill since. 3 playoff wins in a decade. His teams are never ready to play in the big game and they are always out coached. No has wasted more talent than Trippy.

  27. Ben must just love all this drama. And he doesn’t even to make it himself. I wonder how long it will take until he’s calling out his team mates in the media again.

  28. mjchockey1 says:
    February 17, 2021 at 5:25 pm
    I love how people that have zero experience managing a team or the cap think they know more about the people paid to make the decisions.
    Ever had a mechanic do a bad job of fixing your car? Did that make you a mechanic? Ever get rude customer service? Did that make you a business manager? It’s called having an opinion. Many people managing some of these teams have no experience. They have either inherited their majority of the team, or hired for a job they are unqualified for- see Jack Easterby.

  29. Tomlin inherited a Super Bowl caliber coaching staff and roster. It’s been nothing but downhill since. 3 playoff wins in a decade. His teams are never ready to play in the big game and they are always out coached. No has wasted more talent than Trippy.

    Mike McCarthy says hello.

  30. FA – Offense (Juju /Conner/ Big AL = All Let Go) Banner – must sign
    – Defense ( Dupree- only for cheap) Hilton and Sutton must signs
    Ben – If he puts his $$ where his mouth is and plays for pennies on the
    On the dollar then keep…..if not eat the dead $ and move on.
    Draft – Focus on the offensive line!! Even Barry Sanders in his prime
    wouldn’t have performed well last year!
    Offense- Canada gets back to having Qb under center on 1st, 2nd down
    Both Run game improve and Play action pas efficient
    WR- Claypool utilized as a #1, Johnson is very dangerous, and Washington who might be most reliable hands and hardest worker gets more Snaps!
    Defense- Tuitt, Heyward, TJ, Bush, Minkah, Hilton, Highsmith, Nelson, and Haden are solid!!! Sutton may be our most improved player every year. Edmunds is ? …Not developing as fast as we would like, much like Dupree in first 4 years.

    Overall, IMO there is no rebuild and this is not Armageddon. Best example would be 2000-2001 Ravens, except Steelers offense will be better. I assure you the offense will be way better than 2019 and would argue better than last year’s.

    Defense, baring any serious injuries w/Bush back with Green Dot, no reason they shouldn’t be dominant! Highsmith will be a stud in this league soon!

    Steelers 2021 > Steelers 2020 IMO as an arm chair GM
    Welcome all thoughts, comments, and criticisms
    Go Steelers!

  31. In my opinion, Ben deserves more respect than he is getting from Colbert. He’s done everything asked of him and more. Talk to him, don’t talk to the media about how he doesn’t fit or we have to think about it. That’s a conversation for him. Sit down and lay everything out on the line so he can either play his last year with the Steelers or retire. He does not deserve to be cut.

    Kevin Colbert is throwing Ben under the bus when in reality, Ben isn’t 100% responsible for the demise last year. All the accolades thrown Tomlin’s way are a joke, what good is it if you can’t win in the post season? Colbert is equally to blame, you are the GM, you need to put talent on the field. L’eveon Bell was the running game for Pittsburgh and they let him go. I love James Connor, but he is not a first string running back. Two years ago, the writing was on the wall; a running back had to be on Pittsburgh’s radar, but COlbert and TOmlin dropped the ball. Imagine if the Steelers had a running game behind Ben. THen he could have saved his arm by not throwing 40+ times a game.

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