Updated: Mar 6, 2021
(Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)
Team president Art Rooney II released a statement on Wednesday saying that the Steelers would like Ben Roethlisberger back for the 2021 season, but they just have to figure out his cap situation and lower his $41.25 million cap hit.
With Rooney publicly saying they would like Roethlisberger to return, negotiations would have to go really bad for the two parties to not reach an agreement. Roethlisberger texted Ed Bouchette of The Athletic last month that he doesn't care how much he gets paid this year. It's pretty much a done deal that Roethlisberger will be back for another season.
Rooney told Bob Labriola of Steelers.com that they would like to get a deal done with Roethlisberger by the start of the new league year on March 17.
"Hopefully we'll work something out before that, but certainly if you want to say there's a hard deadline, March 17 would be it," Rooney said.
Last week, the league announced that there would be a cap floor of $180 million and it's expected to remain around that figure. According to Overthecap.com, the Steelers are currently projected to be around $19 million over the cap. A contract extension with Roethlisberger could free up $14 million in cap space.
"We have been in communication with Ben throughout the offseason, and we have been clear that we would like him back but we needed to do something with the contract," Rooney said. "We're getting to that point now where the time is right. We have a better idea of where the salary cap is going to be, which is an important component of the decision. It just felt like it was time to sit down with Ben and have a good discussion, make sure the lines of communication are open."
The Steelers got off to a franchise-best 11-0 start in 2020, but they faded down the stretch, losing five of their last six games of the season, including the 48-37 loss to the Browns in the first round of the playoffs. Roethlisberger didn't play well either late in the season after having a stellar start to the year when some considered him a league MVP candidate.
In the first nine games, Roethlisberger had a 22-4 touchdown-interception ratio and had a quarterback rating over 100 seven times. In his last seven games of the season (including the playoff loss), Roethlisberger had a 15-10 touchdown-interception ratio and had a quarterback rating over 100 just once.
"We think Ben played at a high level last year," Rooney said. "We won our division and set a franchise record for most consecutive wins to open a season, so there was a lot of good stuff. Ben was as disappointed as anybody the way it ended. That last game is just hard to swallow, and I think in part Ben wants to come back and leave on a high note. We're still confident he has the ability to do that."
Roethlisberger's deep ball was not up to par in 2020 and he averaged just 6.3 yards per pass attempt, the lowest of his career, not counting the 2019 season when he played just six quarters before being sidelined for the rest of the year due to a right elbow injury that required surgery.
"His arm, I would say, is as strong or almost as strong as ever, so I think he's certainly capable of getting the job done. Part of the concern is putting a (competitive) team around him, and we had a good discussion about that. We know there are still a lot of pieces to the puzzle that still have to fall into place this season, and we're hard at work trying to make that happen."