Breakdown Of How Ben Roethlisberger’s 2021 Cap Charge Got So High

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger

I’ve been getting quite a few questions vis email about Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger as of late and especially when it comes to his contract. For starters, most people that email want to know why Roethlisberger’s 2021 salary cap charge is the highest in the NFL and the other group emailers wants clarification on what the quarterback is really scheduled to earn in 2021. Because of these numerous questions, I figured I would address these topics in a Sunday evening post.

First, let’s look back at the two-year contract extension that Roethlisberger signed in 2019 and how the three total years shook out in structure.

Notice that Roethlisberger’s scheduled base salaries in 2019, 2020, and 2021 were $2.5 million, $8.5 million and $4million, respectively. Also notice that Roethlisberger’s new contract called for him to receive roster bonuses in 2019, 2020 and 2021 of $5 million, $12.5 million, and $15 million, respectively.

Now look at the bonus proration column and let me explain those numbers.

As part of Roethlisberger’s two-year extension that he signed in 2019 he was given a signing bonus of $37.5 million. A signing bonus, for salary cap accounting purposes, can be stretched out for up to five years if there’s that many years on the contract to stretch it out. In Roethlisberger’s case, however, there were only three years to stretch it out for cap accounting purposes and thus divided into three equal parts of $12.5 million. Remember, this is for accounting only because Roethlisberger received that $37.5 million in 2019.

So, why is the 2019 bonus proration amount $18.7 million and not $12.5 million? That’s because Roethlisberger already had a previous proration bonus amount on the 2019 books for $6.2 million. Therefore, the additional $12.5 million needed to be added on top of the $62 million.

Remember, the above contract layout, along with scheduled annual salary cap charges, is exactly how it looked right after Roethlisberger signed his contract extension in 2019. He technically earned $45 million in 2019 as well ($2.5 million base salary + $5 million roster bonus + $37.5 million signing bonus), if you are scoring at home.

Everybody still following along with the math?

Now let’s move along to last March when the Steelers restructured Roethlisberger’s contract to free up 2020 salary cap space.

Notice how the 2020 base salary, bonus proration and roster bonus amounts for 2020 have all changed. What the Steelers did as part of restructuring Roethlisberger’s contract is that they turned the $12.5 million roster bonus he was due in March along with $7 million of the $8.5 million base salary he was due in 2020 into one large signing bonus. That caused Roethlisberger’s base salary amount to dip down to $1.5 million and his roster bonus amount to go to zero.

Now, that total $19.5 million of money converted into a signing bonus could then only be stretched out for cap accounting purposes for two years because that’s all the years Roethlisberger had remaining on his contract last March. In summation, the $19.5 million was split up into two equal amounts of $9.75 million and added into the bonus proration columns for years 2020 and 2021.

This resulted in Roethlisberger’s previously scheduled salary cap charge in 2020 of $33.5 million to decrease by $9.75 million and his previously scheduled 2021 cap charge of $31.5 million to increase by $9.75 million to where it is currently, which is $41.25 million.

Still following along with the math?

The resulting March 2020 restructure has now produced the result you see below for Roethlisberger for 2021.

Once again, just like he it was when he signed his extension in 2019, Roethlisberger is still scheduled to earn just a $4 million base salary in 2021 and roster bonus of $15 million, which is due to him a few days after the start of the new league year on March 17. That’s it, Roethlisberger is set to earn just $19 million in 2021 after earning $21 million in 2020 and $45 million in 2019.

See that $22.25 million in the bonus proration column? That’s permanent proration signing bonus amortization only. That portion of money has long been paid to Roethlisberger in signing bonus form. There is no way to reduce that $22.25 million because it’s permanently prorated and thus fixed to the 2021 season’s accounting.

So, what options do the Steelers have with Roethlisberger’s contract now so that his 2021 cap charge of $41.25 million will decrease somewhat?

As I wrote way back in August, assuming Roethlisberger doesn’t tell the Steelers to keep some of that $19 million he’s due in 2021, what you’re likely to see happen in the next six weeks is happen is all but $1.075 million of the $19 million owed to the quarterback turned into a signing bonus as part of his contract being extended by four voidable years with no additional new money given in 2021.

In short, Roethlisberger would have his base salary drop to the minimum of $1.075 and then receive $17.925 million he was due as a signing bonus. That $17.925 million would then be split up into five equal amounts as bonus proration. The result would be Roethlisberger’s 2021 salary cap charge decreasing by $14.34 million. An outline of the outlined example extension is below.

The byproduct of such an extension, assuming it voids right after the 2021 season, would result in the remaining years of bonus proration (2022-2025), a total of $14.34 million, to accelerate into 2022 as a dead money charge against the Steelers salary cap for that year. So, to save $14.34 million in 2021 salary cap space, it would cost the Steelers $14.34 million of their 2022 salary cap space.

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