Ben Roethlisberger knew his contract would have to be adjusted in order for him to remain a Pittsburgh Steeler. With a $41 million cap hit and the salary cap constricting due to the pandemic, there was no way the team could keep him at that number. Roethlisberger said he’d do whatever it took to free up enough cap space. And he backed up those words with actions, taking a $5 million paycut as part of his contract restructure.
On Tuesday, he spoke with reporters about that process and where the idea of a paycut — rare for a starting quarterback — came from.
“It was my idea,” Roethlisberger said in a Zoom call provided by the team.” I told him I want to help the team out however we can. And so I went to them and told them that I would do whatever I could to help the team sign the guys that are gonna help us win football games.”
In Dave Bryan’s outline of how the Steelers trimmed over $34 million in cap space, he broke down the steps Roethlisberger and the team took to re-work his deal.
“Roethlisberger agreed to take a $5 million pay cut in 2021 to help the Steelers out so he’ll now earn $14 million in 2021. As part of his contract rework, four voidable years were added to Roethlisberger’s deal and $12.925 million of the $14 million he’s now scheduled to earn was turned into a signing bonus to be prorated for cap accounting purposes over the five total years. Roethlisberger’s contract rework resulted in his 2021 cap charge dropping $15.34 million in total.”
With an average yearly value of just $14 million, Roethlisberger is now just the 16th highest-paid quarterback in the league behind names like Ryan Tannehill and Derek Carr.
In a sense, the paycut felt symbolic. For 2021, doing so only saved the Steelers $1 million, though they needed to overturn every stone to make the cap work. But as Kevin Colbert and the Steelers have explained, it was the catalyst for other players doing the same. Notably, WR JuJu Smith-Schuster took less money from Pittsburgh to return, citing Roethlisberger as one reason why he turned down more cash from Baltimore or Kansas City.
“For [Roethlisberger] to follow that up and be willing to adjust his pay to be able to not only keep himself here but give us the opportunity to have some other folks stay is very much appreciated, and I think it started a real positive offseason for us,” Colbert said in late April.
Though no one should ever begrudge a player for making as much money as possible, Roethlisberger has made plenty in his long NFL career. For him, it’s about building the best roster possible for one last run at a Super Bowl, even if that mountain will be a steeper climb than it was even a year ago. Roethlisberger, though, doesn’t mind being the underdog.
“Obviously we have a great defense and some amazing weapons on offense. I wanted to come back to be a part of what I think is a special football team that everyone’s overlooking. Which is kind of cool too. In order to do that to help get guys here, I felt that it was necessary to [take a paycut].”