A $4 Million Dollar Question About Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Concerning 2021

According to a recent report by Jeremy Fowler of ESPN, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to meet with the team this week at some point to discuss his future and contract. Roethlisberger reportedly wants to return for an 18th NFL season in 2021 and while the Steelers seemingly would like to have him back, his $41.25 million cap hit must be addressed in a manner that helps out the team. While I realize several reading this post are on opposite sides of the fence when it comes to Roethlisberger playing in 2021, I wanted to address the quarterback’s current situation in a slightly different manner in an attempt to see if it might sway some opinions. There’s obviously a lot of hypotheticals in this presentation but bear with me and read it all the way through.

For starters, should the Steelers and Roethlisberger decide to part ways in the next five and a half weeks, and nothing be done with the quarterback’s contract, the Steelers will save $19 million in cash by either cutting him or placing him on the retired list. As far as cap space saved in such an outcome, the Steelers would technically clear $18.34 million in 2021 after top 51 roster displacement takes place.

On the other hand, should the Steelers and Roethlisberger work out a contract agreement in the next several weeks that essentially results in a four-year extension with no new money in 2021 and with several voidable years, the team would clear $14.34 million in cap space. This type of an extension I have detailed several times in other posts dating back to August so it shouldn’t be foreign to regular readers of this site. Such an extension wouldn’t require Roethlisberger giving up any of the $19 million he’s scheduled to earn in 2021. It would, however, push a total of $14.34 million dead money into the future should the 2021 season be the quarterback’s last. We’ll address that more in a bit.

In an attempt to keep this as simple as possible, the Steelers stand to clear $18.34 million in cap space in 2021 if Roethlisberger’s time in Pittsburgh is now up, or $14.34 million if he signs off on the previously mentioned four-year extension that includes no new money in 2021. In short, there’s just a $4 million difference in 2021 salary cap space saved in these two scenarios.

Now, before I get to the $4 million question I want to ask, I think most of you will agree that the Steelers are likely to address the quarterback position early in a draft either in 2021 or 2022. At Roethlisberger’s age, it would be a bit foolish not to. While I’m not sure how the reported meeting this week between Roethlisberger and the Steelers will go, I’ll speculate that the subject of the team possibly drafting a quarterback early this year will be broached.

Assuming that draft topic is discussed, and should the Steelers ultimately decide to select what they would hope will be their heir apparent to a retuning Roethlisberger this year, the team would then be set up to go in various different directions at quarterback during the 2021 season. Obviously, the initial plan would be for Roethlisberger to be the starter to open the season. Should, however, the Steelers 2021 season go south at any point for whatever reason or reasons, the team could then decide to either take an extended look at backup quarterback Mason Rudolph and/or their new rookie quarterback. That makes sense, right? If the season were to go like the Steelers and Roethlisberger would both hope it goes, the veteran quarterback would stay on the field and hopefully the team would go on to make a playoff run. The above scenario I laid out seems to be the best for all parties and essentially at a cost of just $4 million in 2021 salary cap space.

So, what about that potential $14.34 million in future dead money I elegantly just pushed to the side like none of you would have noticed? While I don’t know how the Steelers contract extension negotiations with Roethlisberger might go, I would think they might attempt to get the quarterback to agree to some sort of reasonable salary in his 2022 contract year that wouldn’t void until after June 1, or possibly not void at all. In short, I would think the Steelers would attempt to set themselves up for a situation in 2022 like the New Orleans Saints had this year with quarterback Drew Brees.

To quickly summarize what the Saints recently did with Brees and apply to this Roethlisberger scenario, hopefully the quarterback would be willing to consider an exit plan in 2022 that would include him dropping whatever his base salary might be down to the minimum if it’s decided a year from now that he no longer wants to play, or the Steelers don’t think he should play. Such a scenario would allow the Steelers to carry Roethlisberger on their 2022 roster until June 2 so that the acceleration of his remaining prorated signing bonus given to him in the next five weeks wouldn’t happen until 2023. Such an exit strategy for Roethlisberger past June 1 of 2022 would result in a dead money charge of $3.585 million that season and the remaining $10.755 million being dead in 2023.

So, what if Roethlisberger were to play extremely well in 2021 and win the Super Bowl and the two sides ultimately agree he should play yet another season in 2022? Well, the team would already have a reasonable base salary in place as part of the extension this offseason at say around $25 million. Roethlisberger could also insist that some sort of roster bonus be due at around the start of the team’s 2022 training camp to really help make up for him taking no new money this offseason. That would obviously be way after June 1. I obviously can’t foresee things getting that far, but at least there would be an option should things go extremely well for Roethlisberger and the Steelers in 2021. After all, we are talking about several hypotheticals in this post so what’s one more?

Now that I have laid all of that out for you readers, let me get back to the main purpose of this post and ask the magical question. Assuming things were to play out exactly how I laid it out above, and that would include the team possibly drafting a quarterback of their liking this year, would those of you who have been against Roethlisberger returning in 2021 be on board with him coming back for at least one more season at the cost of what would essentially be $4 million in salary cap space difference?

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