Steelers president Art Rooney II said last Friday that an extension for Roethlisberger is in the plans, but not before the team addresses the players set to become free agents in 2015.
Rooney, speaking with WTAE in Pittsburgh and other assembled media, said, "Ben wants to be part of a winning team, to be in a position to compete for championships, and he understands that in order to do that we need to try to keep as many of the other players around as we can. So, addressing the players who are going into the final years of their contracts in 2014 makes sense."
Roethlisberger has two years left on an eight-year, $102 million contract that will pay him a $12.1 million salary this year ($18.8 million total with bonuses). At 32 years old, he certainly has years of football left in him and is still in his prime as a quarterback.
There's no reason for the Steelers to not eventually sign him to a deal that would effectively make him a Steeler for life, as general manager Kevin Colbert noted to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson on Monday: "I don't see any circumstance of where Ben won't finish his career here."
However, it is smart to push the payday back in order to pay other players set to hit free agency next year, especially if Roethlisberger is seeking upward of $20 million per year, as Bleacher Report NFL insider Jason Cole reports.
Those free agents include outside linebacker Jason Worilds, cornerback Cortez Allen, right tackle Marcus Gilbert and kicker Shaun Suisham. With the Steelers currently projected to spend around $126 million of an expected $145 million salary cap next year, that gives them approximately $19 million in cap space available for these free agents, barring other moves to free up cash.
The Steelers generally try to negotiate new deals with quarterbacks two years before the previous contract expires. However, given the circumstances regarding the upcoming group of free agents, it makes sense that the team would want to push Roethlisberger's extension until after those other players have been re-signed.
That way, they will know what their cap situation will look like, better enabling them to put together a deal with Roethlisberger that satisfies the quarterback and puts them in a good financial position. Extending Roethlisberger is clearly not a matter of if, but when and, of course, how much.
A $20 million per year base salary—or $20 million per year in salary and bonuses combined—doesn't seem excessive for Roethlisberger, who has helped the Steelers to three Super Bowl appearances and two wins in the past 10 years.
Five quarterbacks are set to make more in base salary than Roethlisberger this year and nine in 2015. Five will have higher total cap hits than Roethlisberger next year. Four quarterbacks who have never won a Super Bowl have higher-value contracts. What was once one of the league's most lucrative quarterback contracts now has an average salary ranked 14th at the position this year.
|Quarterback Average Salaries, 2014|
Further, Roethlisberger is quickly taking more control over the Steelers offense. Two years into Todd Haley being the team's offensive coordinator, Roethlisberger now describes their professional relationship as a "partnership." The offense has also been increasing its use of the no-huddle, another nod to Roethlisberger conducting more of the in-game decisions.
Roethlisberger is certainly worth the money, but the Steelers don't want to pay him at the expense of the rest of their roster. That both sides appear to be fine with this arrangement means that negotiations, when they happen, should be quick and painless.
Roethlisberger's agent, Ryan Tollner, already hinted at that fact, saying, "Most negotiations aren't that complicated or time consuming once they get started, if you have two people or two parties that want to do a deal."
Though Cole says there is a possibility that negotiations could eventually get ugly between the Steelers and Roethlisberger, leading to a "divorce," the fact that they are trying to get these other contracts out of the way combined with an ever-rising salary cap points to Roethlisberger playing out his career in Pittsburgh.
Colbert has even said it would be "wonderful" if Roethlisberger's price tag went up following a Steelers Super Bowl victory this season. The Steelers are trying to maintain a competitive roster when it comes to their upcoming contract talks. However, that competitive roster includes the quarterback; they aren't going to let the face of their franchise leave in order to pay a pass-rusher.
The "when" of Roethlisberger's next contract doesn't matter now that it appears assured that "if" is no longer a question. Breaking with their quarterback contract orthodoxy is a best-interest move for the Steelers and not any indication that Roethlisberger won't be getting the money and job stability he's worth.