After missing all but six quarters of the 2019 NFL season due to an elbow injury, it’s obvious that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is looking forward to playing in 2020. Roethlisberger made it clear on Tuesday during his media session that not only is it important for him to show people that he can rebound from his first career season-ending injury, but also for him to make sure that he tries his best to continue playing and ultimately go out on his own terms and not via an injury.
“I think any athlete, any competitor will tell you they want to go out on their own terms, right,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday. “And it doesn’t happen all the time. We don’t always get lucky, whether that’s trades, cuts, injuries, whatever that is. And so, I think if I had felt that I was closer to the end, it might’ve been more of a decision for me to think longer about coming back or not. But I didn’t feel that I’m close to that yet.”
While Roethlisberger is currently under contract with the Steelers through the 2021 season, he did give some hints on Tuesday that there’s a chance he’ll continue to play longer than that.
“I’m not saying I’ve got 10 years left in me, but I definitely feel like I’ve got some really good years left in me,” Roethlisberger said Tuesday. “So, that was definitely a motivating factor – was coming back and showing that I still have it in a tank, I still have a lot to give this team, I still have a lot to give the fans.”
So, is it possible that Roethlisberger could ultimately play past the 2021 season in Pittsburgh? Absolutely, but he’s still at least six months away from having to decide that. In short, how Roethlisberger plays and how his surgically repaired elbow holds up in 2020 will likely be a key factor in the veteran quarterback possibly deciding in February or March that he wants to sign yet another contract extension with the Steelers, if indeed they’re willing to offer him one.
Should the Steelers and Roethlisberger both decide that another short contract extension is in order come late February or early March of 2021, such a transaction could potentially free up some very much needed salary cap space for the organization in the process and especially if the quarterback were to decide he doesn’t need as big of a signing bonus as he’s gotten in past years as part of the extensions he’s signed.
Currently, Roethlisberger, who is now 38 years of age, is set to count $41.25 million against the Steelers salary cap in 2021. It’s important to point out, however, that only $19 million of that is what Roethlisberger is scheduled to earn in 2021 as the other $22.25 million is past bonus proration amounts. In short, and regardless of what happens next offseason, the lowest that Roethlisberger’s 2021 cap charge can possibly be in 2021 is $23.325 million. And that’s only if by some miracle he decided to agree to forgo his $15 million roster bonus he’s due in March and lower his scheduled base salary of $4 million down the league minimum of $1.075 million. Such a scenario would include him not getting any sort of signing bonus. In short, that best-case scenario is not happening.
Even if Roethlisberger were to agree to roll up the $15 million roster bonus he’s due in March, along with all but $1.075 million of the $4 million in base salary he’s due, into a signing bonus as part of an extension that included no other new bonus money, the lowest his 2021 salary cap charge could be is $26.91 million and even that is a far-fetched scenario and beyond expectations of the veteran quarterback. That would be part of a four-year extension as well with Roethlisberger still pocketing only the same $19 million in 2021 and not a penny more.
A more somewhat realistic extension for Roethlisberger come March of 2021 would be for another two years on top of 2021 and the quarterback receiving, at the very least, another $15 million in new signing bonus money to go along with the $17.925 million of his old money. In short, just short of a $33 million signing bonus in 2021 to go along with a minimum base salary of $1.075 million. Even a deal as low as that would result in Roethlisberger’s new cap charge in 2021 being $31,556,250, which is just a savings of $9,693,750 in space.
Are you seeing the big picture now? Even if Roethlisberger decides he wants to sign an extension in February or March, the most the team would realistically save in 2021 salary cap space is roughly $10 million, and that’s with the quarterback doing the Steelers a huge solid.
We have six months to go before we must worry about what Roethlisberger’s contract might look like come the middle of March. In the meantime, however, Roethlisberger needs to play well and stay healthy in 2020 for there to be any talk of him playing beyond the 2021 season. Based on what all Roethlisberger said on Tuesday, I like the chances of that happening.