Mike Tomlin didn’t explicitly commit to Ben Roethlisberger returning in 2021 but he did praise Roethlisberger’s play in 2020. Tomlin was asked about Roethlisberger’s present and future several times during his year-end Wednesday press conference.
“I can’t say enough about his performance this year,” he told reporters via the team’s YouTube channel Wednesday afternoon. “With the uncertainty coming off of injury. Not having an opportunity to perform in preseason games, there really was a high-level of concern about his health and ability to perform.”
That’s a contrast to what the team said throughout the season, exhibiting nothing but complete confidence in Roethlisberger’s recovery and rehab. Tomlin went on to praise the job the medical and training staff did to ensure Roethlisberger was ready for every game.
“I was more than pleased with the performance of his health and his ability to stay up.”
Roethlisberger finished the year with 33 touchdown passes, one shy of his career high set in 2018. He was the catalyst to the team’s 11-0 record, often the sole man the offense ran through without any sort of running game. He threw the ball a whopping 602 times, third in the league, and he likely would’ve finished first had he not sat out the Week 17 finale against Cleveland.
But Roethlisberger had his struggles, like the rest of the team, down the stretch. That included the Wild Card loss where he threw three first-half interceptions and four during the game, the first Steelers’ QB to achieve that dubious mark in playoff history.
Roethlisberger’s 2021 cap charge is a whopping $41 million, putting the Steelers in a difficult spot especially in a year of league-wide financial strain. Tomlin was asked if that cap number (not to be confused with money owed, to be clear) could cause the team to go in a different direction at quarterback.
“I don’t have a clear assessment of the overall impact of the cap ramifications. So I might not have a direct answer to your question. I think it’s reasonable to assume there’s a chance he’s going to be back, certainly.”
Even for Tomlin, that is a highly qualified answer about your future Hall of Fame quarterback, though it does lean towards his quarterback returning. What the Steelers do with Roethlisberger and his contract will be one of this year’s key storylines. An extension to reduce his 2021 cap charge is most logical but it’s unclear what direction Roethlisberger or the team wants to go in right now.
After Sunday’s loss, Roethlisberger said he wants to return in 2021 to honor the final year of his most recent extension.
“I still have a year left on my contract,” he said after falling to the Browns. “I hope the Steelers want me back, if that’s the way we go. There’ll be a lot of discussions, but now is not the time for that”.