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Looking Ahead At 2021 Ben Roethlisberger Contract/Cap Cutting Scenarios

Thanks to Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roehlisberger having his contract restructured during the offseason, his 2021 salary cap charge is now scheduled to be a whopping $41.25 million. That large number figures to present quite a challenge for the Steelers come March and especially if the NFL’s salary cap numbers comes in at the floor amount of $175 million. With so much concern already about the Steelers 2021 salary cap outlook, in addition to Roethlisberger now being scheduled to count $41.25 million against it, I wanted to take some time out on this Sunday to go over various options the team will have after the 2020 season ends when it comes to the veteran quarterback’s contract. With so much misinformation being floated around about Roethlisberger’s 2021 scenarios these last few weeks, I wanted to spell things out for readers as best as possible.


Let’s start first by looking at Roethlisberger’s current contract situation for 2021:

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $4,000,000 $22,250,000 $15,000,000 $41,250,000 $19,000,000

Base Salary: $4 million – Roethlisberger’s base salary in 2021 is currently scheduled to be $4 million. If somehow altered via an extension or agreed to pay decrease, the lowest it can go down to is $1.075 million.

Signing Bonus Proration: $22.25 million – This number cannot be decreased, and it remains in the 2021 year. This is not money due Roethlisberger, however, as it is proration for cap purposes of previous bonuses paid out to him already. Once again, this is not earnings, it’s proration of money previously paid to him and there is no way for the number to go down.

Roster Bonus: $15 million – Roethlisberger is currently due a $15 million roster bonus on the third day of the 2021 league year in March. Like his base salary, it could be negotiated down or a full or partial portion of it be paid to the quarterback as a signing bonus as part of an extension.

Cash Flow: As it stands right now, Roethlisberger is scheduled to earn $19 million in 2021, which is the sum of his base salary and roster bonus.


Let’s now look at multiple options the Steelers have when it comes to Roethlisberger and his contract situation in 2021:


Roethlisberger Retires – Should Roethlisberger decide to retire after the 2020 season, odds are good such a decision would be made prior to his $15 million roster bonus being due on the third day of the new league year in March. If Roethlisberger were to retire before his roster bonus is due, the Steelers would save $19 million in 2021 salary cap space and be on the hook for $22.25 million in dead money next season. While the Steelers could probably go after Roethlisberger’s final year of signing bonus proration money being as he didn’t play out his contract, it is very, very doubtful they would do so out of respect for his long career in Pittsburgh.


Terminate Roethlisberger’s Contract – Should the Steelers decide to terminate Roethlisberger’s contract in 2021, they would likely do so before paying him the $15 million roster bonus he’s due on the third day of the new league year in March. Terminating Roethlisberger’s contract before paying him his roster bonus would save the Steelers $19 million in 2021 salary cap space prior to roster displacement. The cutting of Roethlisberger would result in a dead money charge of $22.25 million in 2021.


Straight Maximum Pay Cut Restructure – While it’s very unlikely to happen, Roethlisberger could agree to the altering of his 2021 contract year and thus have the $15 million roster he’s due in March removed and have his $4 million base salary lowered to the allowable minimum, which in his case would be $1.075 million. Such generosity on Roethlisberger’s part would lower his 2021 cap charge to $23.325 million, a savings of $17.925 million. This scenario just isn’t going to happen but if it did, below is what Roethlisberger’s 2021 year would look like on paper.

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $1,075,000 $22,250,000 $0 $23,325,000 $1,075,000

Faux Max Extension With Voidable Years With No New 2021 Money – The Steelers can’t do a traditional restructure of Roethlisberger’s contract as 2021 is his final year. If, however, the quarterback really wanted to do the team a favor before his $15 million roster bonus is due in March, he could agree to an extension that would add four more years and not require any new money in 2021 and accept all of his $15 million roster bonus and $2.925 million of his $4 million base salary that he’s due as a signing bonus. In short, all but $1.075 million of the $19 million due Roethlisberger in 2021 would be turned into a signing bonus and four additional voidable years added to the quarterback’s contract. This would mean that Roethlisberger’s contract would void on the last day of the 2021 league year. Roethlisberger would likely require in such an extension that he can’t be franchise or transition tagged as well. A contract extension such as this example, if it voids, would result in the Steelers having a dead money charge of $14.34 million in 2022. The faux extension, however, would result in the Steelers saving $14.34 million in 2021 cap space as Roethlisberger’s new cap charge would be $26.91 million. Unless Roethlisberger really knew that 2021 was going to be his final NFL season and if he was fine with not getting any new money in 2021 as part of him doing the team a huge favor, this scenario is very, very unlikely to happen. Below is an example of what a faux extension with voidable years would look like in paper when it comes to 2021 numbers and the prorated bonus amounts in the subsequent years. Roethlisberger would still get the $19 million he was already due in 2021 and the Steelers would get $14.34 million in 2021 cap relief at the expense of having $14.34 million in 2022 dead money.

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $1,075,000 $25,835,000 $0 $26,910,000 $19,000,000
2022 irrelevant $3,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2023 irrelevant $3,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2024 irrelevant $3,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2025 irrelevant $3,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant

Faux Max Extension With Voidable Years With Some New 2021 Money – This next option is like the previous one except for the quarterback receiving even more money in 2021 than the $19 million he was already scheduled to earn. We saw veteran quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees do something like this recently and you can read more about what each did in this great post by Joel Corry on CBS Sports. Once again, this scenario includes up to four additional voidable years to be added as if it were an extension. Roethlisberger would be given additional money to go with the $19 million he’s already set to earn and all but $1.075 million of the total could be turned into a signing bonus and prorated a max of five years. For example, let’s say Roethlisberger was given $10 more million as a signing bonus to do a faux four-year extension that included voidable years and a no tag guarantee, he would go from earning $19 million in 2021 to $29 million. Such an extension would result in his 2021 cap charge dropping by $12.34 million. The downside to this scenario is that if Roethlisberger’s contract voided on the last day of the 2021 league year is that the Steelers would then have a dead money charge in 2022 of $22.34 million. Below is this example laid out below with Roethlisberger getting $10 million more in 2021 to do a faux four-year extension. Honestly, the Steelers would be silly to go this route and Roethlisberger would be as well unless he knew for sure he was ready to be done in the NFL or in Pittsburgh, specifically.

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $1,075,000 $27,835,000 $0 $28,910,000 $29,000,000
2022 irrelevant $5,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2023 irrelevant $5,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2024 irrelevant $5,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant
2025 irrelevant $5,585,000 $0 irrelevant irrelevant

Top Of Market Regular Extension With New 2021 Money – A lot of you are not going to like these last two scenarios, but they are the likeliest of them all when it comes to the Steelers lowering Roethlisberger’s 2021 cap charge. In short, a regular extension and one quite like the one he signed a few years ago. Such an extension would likely need to get done before the third day of the 2021 league year and require Roethlisberger to receive even more money than the $19 million old money he’s already due next season. Roethlisberger’s new money worth will be decided during the 2020 season as how he plays and how his surgically repaired arm holds up are two particularly important factors for a quarterback of his age and injury history. Let’s work under the overly optimistic assumption that Roethlisberger fares more than well in 2021 and even wins his third Super Bowl. Assuming Roethlisberger still wants to play at least a few more years, another two-year extension would be in order and one that would leave him as one of the top two highest paid quarterbacks in the NFL. New money and cash flow are two particularly important things and it’s hard to see Roethlisberger budging on either despite his ultra-high career earnings to date. For the sake of this extremely optimistic extension example. below is what a two-year extension could possibly look like for Roethlisberger that would result in him once again being the second-highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Such an extension would total out at $92 million for the three total years and include $73 million in new money. The extension would require a signing bonus of nearly $39 million and the quarterback earning a total of $40 million in 2021. My example two-year extension would produce a 2021 cap savings of $4.95 million and tie the quarterback to Pittsburgh through the 2023 season. Roster bonuses in the deal would make it easy to perform a restructure in March of 2022 so that Roethlisberger’s cap charge could be lowered some should the need arise. Below is a look at my example on paper with Roethlisberger exiting with a new money average of $36.5 million, the second highest in the NFL. This deal includes just the signing bonus ($38.925M) being fully guaranteed as well.

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $1,075,000 $35,225,000 $0 $36,300,000 $40,000,000
2022 $17,000,000 $12,975,000 $10,000,000 $39,975,000 $67,000,000
2023 $10,000,000 $12,975,000 $15,000,000 $37,975,000 $92,000,000

Middle Of Market Regular Extension With New 2021 Money – A middle of the market extension might be something that interest Roethlisberger in 2021 should he have a mediocre 2020 season. Below is a quickly put together two-year extension for Roethlisberger that equates to a $30 million new money average, which means $60 million in new money on top of the $19 million remaining on his old contract. This example includes a $32 million signing bonus for Roethlisberger and a 2021 total cash flow of $33.075 million. Using this example below, Roethlisberger’s 2021 cap charge would decrease by $8.175 million. Only $32 million would be fully guaranteed with virtually $57 million of it practically guaranteed. A March 2022 restructure could be performed to free up roughly $11 million in cap space if it’s needed and if the team is confident that Roethlisberger will play out the entire deal.

YEAR BASE SALARY SIGNING BONUS PRORATION ROSTER BONUS CAP CHARGE CASH FLOW
2021 $1,075,000 $32,916,666 $0 $33,991,666 $33,075,000
2022 $15,925,000 $10,666,667 $8,000,000 $34,591,667 $57,000,000
2023 $9,000,000 $10,666,667 $13,000,000 $32,666,667 $79,000,000

Below Market Regular Extension With New 2021 Money – Want to hope that Roethlisberger ultimately signs an extension with a new money average with a low of around $25 million? First, good luck with that. Second, if he were to agree to such low new money average extension, his 2021 take is still likely to be at least $29 million, which would mean giving the quarterback a signing bonus of at least $27.925 million. Such a two-year extension with those raw starting figures would still result in Roethlisberger having a 2021 cap charge of $32,633,333, a savings of $8,616,667.


Do Nothing – Obviously, another scenario is that nothing happens with Roethlisberger’s contract in 2021 and thus he counts $41.25 million against the cap and be scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March of 2022.


Summary: If you read and digested all these scenarios, you should be able to see that some are a lot more likely than others. Remember, the most the Steelers can save cap-wise with Roethlisberger is $19 million and that’s if he’s cut or retires before his March roster bonus is due. Even if Roethlisberger were to agree to an extension with voidable years, I wouldn’t expect him to do so without getting more new money in 2020. Please keep in mind that the lowest that Roethlisberger’s cap charge can be in 2021 is $23.325 and that’s with him going the full charity route, something I would bet a lot money against happening. Realistically, Roethlisberger will sign a two or more-year extension in February or March, and it include a healthy new money average. In summation, a realistic 2021 Roethlisberger cap charge drop of somewhere between $4 and $8.5 million should only be expected as we sit here ahead of the start of the 2020 regular season. This assumes Roethlisberger signs an extension of at least two years and a maximum of four years.

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