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Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers Agree to New Contract Amid Retirement Rumors

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2021

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) walks off the field after Cleveland Browns strong safety Karl Joseph (42) recovered a fumbled snap for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game, Sunday, Jan. 10, 2021, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has erased any doubt over his future by agreeing to terms on a new contract.

The team announced on Thursday that Roethlisberger has signed his new deal for 2021. 

Roethlisberger issued a statement included in the announcement:

"It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization. I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go."

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported on the specifics of his amended contract:

Adam Schefter @AdamSchefter

Ben Roethlisberger willingly reduced his pay to $14M from $19M in this final year of his contract and spread the cash payment through 2022, per source. It lowered the cap hit by over $15M, all so the team can make the right moves to be as competitive as possible this season.

Roethlisberger signed a two-year, $68 million extension in April 2019 that left him under contract through the upcoming season. In announcing his intention to come back for 2020, he said he wanted to "honor my contract and reward [the team] with championship-level play."

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The 39-year-old was limited to two games in 2019 after suffering an elbow injury that required season-ending surgery. Between that procedure and his advancing age, it seemed fair to wonder what Big Ben would deliver on the field in his 17th season.

Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, helping the Steelers finish the regular season at 12-4 before they suffered a disappointing Wild-Card Round loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Toward the end of that game, NBC's cameras captured him getting visibly emotional on the sideline, and he shared a moment with longtime center Maurkice Pouncey. That led many to wonder whether that was the end of the road.

NFL Films @NFLFilms

Raw emotion from Big Ben and Pouncey after a decade running the offense together. @Steelers https://t.co/mfnNR9qoSZ

As much as Roethlisberger has meant to the franchise, some might question whether his presence is becoming a bit of a burden for the Steelers.

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41

Saw the same issues with the PIT offense tonight... Inability to produce consistently in short-yardage situations. Struggled to create space/open windows in the pass game. Too many 1-on-1 routes. Inconsistent QB play. #Steelers

For The Win's Charles McDonald wrote in December how Pittsburgh's offense was going backward a bit:

"The Steelers have had to change how they play offense to accommodate the current version of Roethlisberger. They're still airing it out and living in empty formations, but they're not taking as many chances down the field as they used to. According to Pro Football Reference, Roethlisberger is averaging just 6.8 intended air yards per attempt, ranking 29th in the league. Roethlisberger is also averaging just 6.3 yards per attempt, ranking 31st among the 35 quarterbacks that have thrown at least 184 pass attempts this season.

"For a quarterback that's averaging $34 million per year in terms of total money, that production isn't good enough. Even though the Steelers very much control their destiny at 11-2 and are one of the top teams in the AFC, everyone with a basic level of football knowledge knows they’re going to need more from their offense. That doesn't just apply to this season, but to seasons beyond this one as they try to maximize their window of having an elite defense."

Roethlisberger's longevity, combined with his annual flirtation with retirement, has made it difficult to line up any sort of succession plan, something the New England Patriots experienced with Tom Brady when Bill Belichick wanted to turn things over to Jimmy Garoppolo.

Mason Rudolph, a third-round pick in 2018, probably isn't the answer. He struggled mightily while filling in for Roethlisberger in 2019, and he'll be 27 in 2022, which is probably the earliest he'd be the No. 1 guy under center.

Selecting a quarterback early in the 2021 draft is tricky because there isn't any way to know for sure that Roethlisberger will walk away when his contract expires.

If he wants to continue playing in 2022, Pittsburgh could make a clean break—albeit one that could create a level of backlash—or kick the can down the road and effectively keep a young quarterback on ice for two years.

The Patriots eventually moved on from Brady, and the Indianapolis Colts released Peyton Manning when it became clear they'd land Andrew Luck. Philip Rivers left the Los Angeles Chargers to make way for Justin Herbert.

If push comes to shove, then the Steelers might have to be similarly pragmatic.

Granted, Roethlisberger is their best bet under center in the short term because of Rudolph's aforementioned production and a dearth of alternatives in free agency.

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