Some big news has surfaced on the possibility of Steelers extending Ben Roethlisberger’s contact beyond 2021. Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner said he has spoken to the Steelers, and the team does indeed want him back. Tollner also said his client is willing to rework his deal to save the team cap space in 2021. https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/agent-confirms-ben-roethlisberger-will-be-back-as-steelers-starting-quarterback-in-2021-per-report/
On the surface this sounds like good news. The Steelers seem intent on getting Ben Roethlisberger back at a discounted rate for the 2021 with some sort of contract extension. There are several factors that make this course of action a huge mistake for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are just some of the factors that make an extension a bad idea:
1. Super Bowl window closed:
If the Steelers take an honest assessment of where they stand in the AFC hierarchy going into 2021, there is no way they can consider themselves contenders in this conference. The Kansas City Chiefs are on a level of their own going into next season. The Buffalo Bills are a close second, and a good deal ahead of the Steelers in terms of talent. There is very little chance that Pittsburgh could overtake either of these teams as the rosters stand today, let alone after the mass exodus of free agents leave this team.
When looking at the AFC North, the outlook doesn’t get much better. There is a legitimate argument that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be entering the season with the fourth best quarterback in the division. Knowing how important the quarterback position is, it’s hard to imagine this team winning a division title being at such a disadvantage at that spot.
So if they would struggle to win the division, and have little to no chance to win the conference, what is the point of bringing back a thirty eight year old quarterback for one last year? Is it sentiment, or loyalty? Those are terrible ways to make decisions as a sports franchise.
2. Roethlisberger Regression:
What made Ben Roethlisberger a great quarterback more than anything else was his ability to extend plays. There was a time when he was nearly impossible to bring down, and could buy time for his receivers to get open. Those days are clearly over. All the punishment he has taken over the years has limited his mobility, and made him unwilling to take hits in the pocket. As a result, Roethlisberger prefers a quicker passing game. The problem with that is Roethlisberger never had the accuracy, or the quick processing required to make a dink and dunk passing game successful.
The new style of offense had teams fooled for the first half of 2020. A quick passing game was completely unexpected, and it took a while for opposing teams to adjust. Once they did however the results were not good. Teams clogged the short area of the field daring Roethlisberger to hold the ball and take deep shots. The results were an offense which looked completely lost at times. Expecting him to improve next season being a year older, and with a lesser roster is foolish to say the least.
3. 2021 Quarterback Carrousel:
We wrote a post that earlier this month on how there may never be a better time to change quarterbacks than this coming off-season. The time is now for a change at Steelers quarterback position
There are so many good quarterbacks about to change teams it would be a mistake not to take advantage, The Steelers have already missed out on talented quarterbacks like Carson Wentz, and Matt Stafford. With many more moves to come, this is the year to strike on a new quarterback. Next season is sure to be a lot less active in the quarterback market.
4. Salary Cap:
The Steelers have maintained that bringing Ben Roethlisberger back would not work without some sort of adjustment to his salary cap number in 2021. We all pretty much know by now that Roethlisberger is slated to cost the team $41 million against the cap. The real number to keep in mind is the $19 million he is actually earning next season.
What the team is likely to do is to turn that $19 million into a signing bonus on a new three or four year contract. This will allow the Steelers to spread that money over the duration of the contract. Pittsburgh could lower his cap number in 2021 significantly with a move like this. We are assuming that Roethlisberger does not get any new money added on with the extension.
The problem here is whatever money they save in 2021 will have to be accounted for later on. For example if things don’t go well in 2021, the team would still be facing a large dead cap charge in 2022 if they decided to move on. Pushing cap problems down the road has become a specialty of the Steelers. Most of the time it has worked well for them, sometimes it hasn’t. With very little upside on Ben Roethlisberger playing in 2021, the need to extend him seems pointless. It will only hurt them cap wise in the 2022 season.
The Steelers hired Matt Canada to replace Randy Fichtner as the teams offensive coordinator for next season. All indications are that Canada likes a more college type offense with play action, and lots of pre-snap motion. These are all things we have come to know Ben Roethlisberger hating as the years have gone on. If the Steelers do bring Ben back they have either severely limited the kind of offense Canada wants to run, or will put Roethlisberger in an offense that doesn’t suit his style of play. This is a terrible match of coach and coordinator. We can easily imagine lots of conflict between Ben and the coaching staff throughout 2021.