While there is a sense that there is a seismic shift coming to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the near future, it won’t be the head coach position doing the shifting. The team announced yesterday that they reached an agreement with Mike Tomlin to a contract extension that now runs through the end of the 2024 season.
While that is typically one year longer than they ordinarily do — they prefer two-year extensions with stable head coaches, this amounting to three — this is a bit of a unique position. The 2021 season was the final year of Tomlin’s previous deal, but there was also a mutual option for 2022.
The team also prefers to extend head coaches with two years remaining on their deals, rather than three. Really, it works out about the same as it would under normal circumstances.
While we know who will likely be the Steelers’ head coach for the next several years, it remains to be seen who is playing under center, and it probably won’t be quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for much longer. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes yesterday that, “it is unlikely there will even be a discussion” about bringing him back for 2022 barring an appearance in the conference finals or the Super Bowl.
This certainly won’t be greeted with fainting spells and the need for smelling salts, granted. And he is not presenting this as breaking news or sourced material. Dulac did note that, “it was a matter of much debate among Tomlin, general manager Kevin Colbert and owner Art Rooney II if they wanted Roethlisberger to come back in 2021,” which we could have surmised just from their public remarks leading up to his contract renegotiation.
Still, their public comments, particularly after Pittsburgh reworked the deal, did also leave the door open for continuing the relationship beyond the 2021 season. Both Rooney and Colbert made remarks to the effect that they feel Roethlisberger can continue to play effectively for more than one season.
Roethlisberger, 39, is entering his 18th season this year. He went 12-3 as a starter in 2020, throwing 33 touchdowns to 10 interceptions, but lacked general efficiency, managing only 3,803 passing yards despite completing 399 of 608 pass attempts. His 9.5 yards per completion are nearly two full yards lower than in any other full season he has played, a statistic in which he has led the NFL multiple times.
The team is looking to give him some help, with a likely focus on the offensive line and the running game during this upcoming draft. Pittsburgh made changes on the coaching staff at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach in part to address the shortcomings of the offense in those areas last season.
As Dulac suggests, even the mere possibility of Roethlisberger playing for the Steelers beyond this season hinges entirely upon his putting in a strong performance during an excellent season. Winning at least one postseason game, something they haven’t done since 2016, is the bare minimum.