PITTSBURGH — Ben Roethlisberger said he’s “pretty sure” he wants to return to the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2021 season and is willing to do “everything” he can to help the team despite his massive salary-cap hit for 2021.
With the salary cap decreasing because of a drop in revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Roethlisberger’s $41.2 million cap hit for next season is untenable, a matter Roethlisberger and team president and CEO Art Rooney II seem to agree on.
“I want to do everything I can 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,” Roethlisberger told The Athletic.
He added: “I am pretty sure I want to go one more year (because) I think I can do it and give us a real chance and winning.”
Speaking earlier Thursday during his season wrap-up Zoom call, Rooney said the Steelers have left the door open for a Big Ben return contingent on adjustments to his contract being made.
“I think we’ve been up front with Ben in letting him know that we couldn’t have him back under the current contract,” Rooney said. “I think he understands we have some work to do there. We’ll have more conversations internally, and we’ll have more conversations with Ben, and we’ll have to know what the cap number is to finalize some of those decisions.”
Roethlisberger also told The Athletic that he doesn’t “care bout my pay at all this year!”
After the wild-card loss to the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger, 38, said he would talk with his family before making a concrete decision to return for 2021 but said he hoped the Steelers would want him back if that’s what he decided to do. But will Rooney and the team give him the opportunity to write his own end to a storied career?
“With Ben, we owe it to him to have a conversation about how he wants to end his career, and we intend to do that.”
To achieve cap relief and give Roethlisberger at least one more season to end on his own terms, the Steelers could ask the quarterback to take a pay cut in the final year of his contract. The Steelers have already prorated $22,250,000 of his contract, leaving $19 million — $4 million in base salary and a $15 million roster bonus — to work with in a pay cut or restructure. The likelier option is an extension and restructure that spreads some of the cap hit into the 2022 season.
“I think that those are discussions we’ll have with Ben and his representative,” Rooney said of possibilities to massage Roethlisberger’s contract. “It takes two to figure that out, and whether we can agree with what he wants, we’ll just have to see.”
As it stands now, the Steelers have three quarterbacks on the roster for the 2021 season: Roethlisberger, Mason Rudolph and newly signed Dwayne Haskins. But Rooney acknowledged that they need to add another signal-caller, potentially putting them in the sweepstakes for one of the available big-name quarterbacks if they can configure the cap to be accommodating.
“I think when you look at our room, we’ll have to add somebody to the room this offseason,” Rooney said. “We’ll look at all the opportunities we have to do that.”
Determining Roethlisberger’s future is just the first step of many difficult decisions and discussions for the Steelers this offseason.
General manager Kevin Colbert’s year-to-year contract will be up after the draft, and while Rooney said the two have had many discussions about Colbert’s future, nothing is official.
“I feel like Kevin is going to come back, but who knows,” Rooney said.
Coach Mike Tomlin’s contract runs through at least the 2021 season with an option for the 2022 season, and in evaluating his head coach, Rooney said he believes Tomlin will lead the team in the future.
“We’ll address Mike’s contract with him as time goes on this offseason,” he said. “I’ll just say I feel comfortable in saying he’ll be our coach into the future. … In terms of the job he did, we didn’t finish the way we’d like. The playoff game, it’s hard to analyze … just turning the ball over that way, you’re not going to win many games. I don’t see how you attribute that to coaching preparation. I think the team went into that game prepared.”
Rooney also said that if it were all up to him, he would go into the 2021 season with the same roster the team had in 2020.
“If I had my druthers, I’d say if I could have the same roster back over in the next year, I’d do it,” he said. “Obviously, that’s not the case.”
With the team’s salary-cap situation — the Steelers are estimated to be over by nearly $30 million with 48 players signed, according to ESPN’s Roster Management System — re-signing free agents such as Bud Dupree and JuJu Smith-Schuster will be difficult, if not impossible.
“It’s fair to say this will be the most difficult salary-cap challenge that we’ve had in a long time, maybe ever,” Rooney said.
But the first step to figuring out the rest of the roster is to determine Roethlisberger’s future.
Asked bluntly whether he wants Roethlisberger to return, Rooney paused, then said he wanted him back but offered no guarantees about the quarterback’s future.
“I think we’d like to see Ben back for another year if that can work,” he said. “But as we said, there’s a lot of work to be done if that can happen; there may need to be decisions on both ends for that to happen.”