Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers president Art Rooney II met with each other on Tuesday, according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The meeting reportedly “went well,” as Roethlisberger and Rooney undoubtedly discussed the quarterback’s future with the organization.
Roethlisberger, who will turn 39 years old next month, has publicly expressed his desire to return to Pittsburgh for his 18th season. Last month, he told The Athletic’s Ed Bocuhette that he is more than willing to adjust his salary in order to help the Steelers manage their cap situation.
“I want to do everything I can,” Roethlisberger said, “and made that very clear to them from the very beginning that it was my idea to basically help the team however I can this year.”
According to Spotrac, Roethlisberger has a base salary of $4 million, a roster bonus of $15 million (that is slated to be paid on March 19) while carrying a cap hit of over $41 million. As CBS Sports’ Joel Corry noted last month, the Steelers put themselves in this position last March when they lowered his 2020 cap number from $33.5 million to $23.75 million by converting $19.5 million of his $21 million 2020 compensation into a signing bonus. Roethlisberger’s 2021 cap number was raised by $9.75 million in the process.
“We’ve been, I think, up front with Ben in letting him know that we couldn’t have him back under the current contract and so I think he understands we have some work to do there,” Rooney II said last month, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. “We’ll have more conversations. We’ll have more conversations internally. We’ll have more conversations with Ben. Obviously we’ll have to know what the cap number is at some point to finalize some of those decisions.”
Earlier this month, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert was transparent when asked about Roethlisberger’s future.
“With Ben’s current cap number, some adjustments will have to be made,” Colbert said, via Dulac. “Hopefully there’s a way we can figure out what’s best for the organization. Hopefully he can see that and feel the same way. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
While it appears that the they are open to having Roethlisberger back, the Steelers do not appear to be building their 2021 team to best complement him. Since the end of the 2020 season, Pittsburgh has moved on from offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner, who is close with Roethlisberger. The Steelers have also made no assurances that they will resign two of Roethlisberger’s favorite offensive teammates: receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner. And while it wasn’t the team’s doing, Roethlisberger’s closest teammate, center Maurkice Pouncey, announced his retirement earlier this month.
Unlike previous years, the Steelers are not tailoring their team to best fit Roethlisberger’s needs. It is similar to what has transpired in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, who last year infamously drafted Rodgers’ successor instead of a receiver in the first round. The Steelers aren’t pushing Big Ben out the door, but it appears that they are making him choose between retiring, playing elsewhere or playing on a vastly different Steelers team than the one he was on in 2020.
If Roethlisberger chooses to move on, Colbert said the Steelers will prepare to play with Mason Rudolph as their starter in 2021. That would give Pittsburgh one year to determine whether or not Rudolph — who is entering the final year of his contract — is Roethlisberger’s longterm successor. There is also the chance that the Steelers use their first-round pick on a quarterback. Pittsburgh, who is expected to have nine picks in the draft, could trade up to acquire one of the top-rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft, a scenario CBS NFL Draft analyst Ryan Wilson played out in his most recent mock draft.