After a relatively quiet start to the opening period of free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers jumped into the spotlight on Friday in a way that actually required a press conference. That doesn’t happen too often in March here.
The big move, of course, was the announcement of the completion of a new five-year contract for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger that will keep him under contract through the 2019 season, at which point he will be 38 years old.
This is a domino that we knew was going to fall all along, but we didn’t know when. Some believed, and many hoped, that the new deal would get done in advance of the opening bell for free agency, and would come with a reduced cap hit that would allow the Steelers to make an uncharacteristic splash by signing a ‘name’ player from another squad.
That, of course, was never too likely to happen, and that has only been made all the more obvious after observing some of the contracts that have been signed over the course of the past few days.
For his part, Roethlisberger intimated that his new contract was extremely fair to both himself and the team, a sentiment that team president Art Rooney II echoed, going on to say that it would allow them to field a competitive team and continue to sign players.
The numbers of the new deal have not been made available as of the time of this writing, which may suggest that it is a somewhat below-market price tag, which would certainly lend credence to Roethlisberger’s claim, but this is pure speculation until the numbers are released.
Let there be little doubt that this was by far the biggest move that the Steelers could have made during this free agency period, under any circumstances, as predictable as it may have been.
Quite simply, nothing else they could have possibly done in March would give them a better chance of winning than locking up their franchise quarterback for a period of years that preserves that elusive championship window. Despite the fact that it was given to happen, let that not overshadow the significance of this contract and what it means for the Steelers in the immediate future.
Roethlisberger is, in point of fact, coming off of what is statistically the best season of his career, tying his own franchise record with 32 touchdown passes while posting a career-low interception percentage, throwing only nine picks in 608 pass attempts. He led the league in passing yards, coming within 50 of reaching 5000 yards, and completed a career-best 67.1 percent of his passes.
He is surrounded by a young cast of wide receivers that will continue to grow around him and a running back that is arguably unparalleled in the league in terms of his two-way ability as a runner and a receiver.
The certainty of the deal having been done will also help the front office map out their future over the course of the next five offseasons, as they will have a guideline that includes what should be their biggest contract already on the books and accounted for.
They now know what they will have to work with, as well as how much leeway they will have going forward. With Roethlisberger’s contract now behind them, they can turn their eyes forward toward the rest of this offseason.