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With Pouncey retiring, you have to wonder if Roethlisberger will return for an 18th season

(Photo by Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Ben Roethlisberger's close friend and teammate Maurkice Pouncey retired on Friday after 11 seasons with the Steelers. Pouncey was the heart and soul of the Steelers offensive line for over a decade. It's the end of an era. Roethlisberger, who turns 39 on March 2 and is in the final year of his contract, time in the league is coming up soon as well.

The franchise quarterback says he wants to come back for his 18th season with the Steelers, but with Pouncey retiring, he might change his mind. The two have always publicly mentioned that they would hang it up at the same time once one calls it a career.

"I hate to say he's the greatest teammate and competitor I've ever been around, but at the end of the day that's what it is -- he's the greatest teammate and competitor I've been around," Roethlisberger said on Friday, per Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "And that's no slight to anybody else."

The Steelers got off to a franchise-best 11-0 record in 2020, but they faded down the stretch and lost five of their last six games of the season, including the embarrassing 48-37 loss to the Browns in the wild-card playoff game.

NFL Films caught the raw emotion of Roethlisberger and Pouncey sitting on the bench after the loss to Cleveland. "I'm sorry, brother. You're the only reason I wanted to do this, man," an emotional Roethlisberger told Pouncey. "Oh, I feel worse for you than me. I hate it, man."

Below is a video of Roethlisberger and Pouncey walking off the field as teammates for the final time.

"I'd love to ask other quarterbacks who have played with one guy for a long time how close they were with their center," Roethlisberger told Dulac. "I'm sure they'd say he's one of their best friends.

"There's something different about it. The quarterback-center relationship is unlike any other in sports. The relationship and communication you want to have with the one guy in front of you, you genuinely need him more than anything else. That's what makes the center position so special."

Roethlisberger also told Dulac that he's "still processing" the retirement of Pouncey. Roethlisberger was supposed to meet with the Steelers last week to discuss lowering his $41.25 million cap hit but he never did. Pouncey's retirement could have played a factor in why the meeting was pushed back.

The Steelers are currently projected to be around $22 million over the salary cap. The cap number for 2021 hasn't been released by the league yet, it's expected to happen soon, so that could also be why the Steelers haven't met with Roethlisberger yet.

The Steelers are reportedly "working through their process" regarding the future of Roethlisberger with the team, according to ESPN's Jeremy Fowler, who stated this on Sportscenter via Bleacher Report.

Despite Pouncey retiring, Fowler believes Roethlisberger will be back in 2021. "Most people I talk to in that building believe Roethlisberger will be back for an 18th season."

With Vance McDonald and Maurkice Pouncey retiring, along with Randy Fichtner gone and having a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada, and the likelihood of JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva leaving via free agency, you have to wonder why would Roethlisberger want to come back?

Roethlisberger is competitive as they come, however, and if he genuinely believes he can still play and help the Steelers contend for a Super Bowl, he'll be on the field once September arrives. He's set to earn $19 million in 2021 and $15 million of that is due on the third day of the new league year on March 19. So, we should know if Roethlisberger will be back with the Steelers for an 18th year in the next couple of weeks.

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