While Pittsburgh Steelers fans might not believe it, the team and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still believe that they have a legitimate shot at competing for a Super Bowl in 2021—most likely for the last time with Big Ben under center, as his contract automatically voids less than a week after the Super Bowl.
The 18-year veteran, now 39 years old, posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career last season at 33-to-10 while returning from major elbow surgery, having had three torn tendons reattached in his throwing arm.
Owing to a cap hit that had ballooned to over $41 million for 2021 due to prior restructures and signing bonus money, the Steelers approached him this offseason about working that into a more manageable number. As it would eventually turn out, the proceedings in doing that involved a $5 million pay cut.
That might not sound as significant when you’re talking about $41 million, but his compensation—rather than his cap hit—was a somewhat more modest $19 million, which he agreed to chip down to $14 million, after which all but the minimum was turned into a signing bonus to spread out over four void years.
This was the course of action the Steelers felt as though they would have to take this season in order to be competitive, especially in light of the immense salary cap shortfall that was a byproduct of the economic losses from the pandemic.
But according to Peter King, Roethlisberger is on board with a plan the Steelers have in place this offseason, which is to improve the run game, something that he wrote about in his weekly column last Sunday.
“He’s very much on-board with the team’s sole off-season focus (even at the expense of losing productive wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster) of revamping the run game after a putrid 3.62-yard average carry last year, worst in the NFL”, King wrote.
“He understands that’s going to be the emphasis in low-cost free-agency and the draft and with new offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s playbook”, he continued. “Roethlisberger had to accept a rebuilding of the offensive line, including the retirement of center Maurkice Pouncey, and he did”.
He also notes that the cap hit would be well-received in the locker room, especially this year, while quoting a friend of Roethlisberger’s in stating that he is in a great frame of mind and really wanted to return to make a run at the Super Bowl this year.
The best shot that they have of doing that is in fact fixing the run game, which means investing in both the running back position and the offensive line, among other steps. I fully expect that the Steelers’ first three draft picks will include at least one running back and one offensive lineman, at this point.
The Steelers managed to go 12-4 last year while not having much of a running game for the majority of that time. I think if you inject even a competent ground game into last year’s roster, they could have certainly come a lot closer to competing for the Super Bowl than proved to be the case.