The 2014 season saw the Pittsburgh Steelers on the rise, finishing with an 11-5 record and a division title following two straight seasons of missing the playoffs with 8-8 records. They finished off the regular season with four straight victories, but suffered a disappointing Wildcard round loss against the Ravens without their star running back.
Nobody is saying that the Steelers, however, are a finished product. Not even the Super Bowl champion is a finished product after a season concludes, because every team undergoes a series of changes throughout the offseason via free agency, retirement, and the draft, in addition to a myriad of other factors.
Pittsburgh is certainly no different, of course, and they are expected to see a number of new faces in the starting lineup for the third straight season. But some priorities weigh more heavily than others, and perhaps the biggest priority this offseason is locking up quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a long-term contract extension.
Roethlisberger, of course, is in the final year of his contract after the Steelers failed to work out an extension with him last summer. In response, the veteran quarterback turned in arguably his best season of his career, tying his own franchise record with 32 touchdown passes, completing a career-high percentage of passes, and throwing for nearly 5000 yards, all while keeping the turnovers down to a minimum.
Some might argue that the Steelers made a mistake when they failed to get a deal done with Roethlisberger a year ago, rationalizing that he led his team to a 8-8 record with no playoffs for two straight years. There were even ultimately unsubstantiated trade rumors. In other words, the argument goes, it would have been more economically beneficial for the team to have gotten a deal done a year ago.
Of course, the Steelers cannot allow Roethlisberger to go into the final year of his contract without an extension, giving him a chance to hit free agency, no matter how much he claims to want to finish his career in Pittsburgh. That only makes it an even greater priority.
The fact of the matter is that no single individual has more to do with the Steelers’ success or failure over the next half-decade or so than Roethlisberger. Therefore, by default, there is no greater concern for the Steelers to address than his contract status.
He is, of course, expected to get a substantial pay increase, in keeping with the current contracts being handed out to the top quarterbacks on the market today. While many expect that a new contract will lower Roethlisberger’s 2015 cap hit, which would allow the Steelers to have more money to spend on rebuilding the roster, that may not be assured.
Even if the Steelers can keep his cap hit around where it is now, however, that would still be a victory, considering he could be making somewhere around $8 million more per season. Whether or not any substantial cap savings can be had in getting this deal done may depend on how much Roethlisberger really wants to finish his career in Pittsburgh by helping the team out financially, but that is secondary to getting the deal done.