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Ben Roethlisberger and Steelers President Art Rooney II had what is being called a "productive" meeting on Tuesday about the quarterbacks future with the team. There's mutual interest from both sides for Ben to come back next season, and in all likelihood he will be back. Under his current contract he is a $41M cap hit next season. According to spotrac.com, this is the largest cap hit in the league for next season as you can see below.
This is an absolute killer for the Steelers who currently sit at about $20M over the cap with key free agents that still need to be signed. The Steelers have several options to reduce this hit, but none of them are really ideal. According to Brooke Pryor at ESPN:
There are two viable options here. The Steelers could do a restructure and four-year extension that voids after 2021. That method reduces his 2021 base salary to $1.075 million and converts the remaining base salary and $15 million roster bonus into a signing bonus. Total, that saves the Steelers $14.34 million for the 2021 season. But that savings turns into dead money for the 2022 season. The Steelers will still be on the hook for Roethlisberger's massive paycheck, but it spreads the cap hit over multiple years. The Steelers rarely give contracts with voidable years, but it could be the best compromise.
The Steelers could also reduce his cap hit by asking him to take at least a 70% pay cut. If Roethlisberger agreed to play for the veteran minimum, his cap hit would come in at just over $23 million. But asking a veteran quarterback to slash his pay for the good of the team would likely be met with dissension from the NFL Players Association.
Roethlisberger previously told The Athletic he didn't "care about my pay at all this year," and his agent, Ryan Tollner, told NFL Network on Tuesday night, "We are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible." With that phraseology, though, Tollner isn't exactly promising his client will be open to taking a steep pay cut in the final year of his contract.
Unless Ben agrees to the steep pay cut there is no winning here for the Steelers. In fact I don't believe there is any winning period next year for the Steelers regardless of who lines up under center. If Ben comes back his play will continue to decline with age. The offense won't be any better next season with Pouncey and Villanueva gone from the O-line and Connor and Juju (lord willing) likely gone as well. With minimal salary cap flexibility we will not have the resources to bring in any high end talent to help out the offense. Our only hope is that new OC Matt Canada can breathe some new life into the offense. The defense will be solid again, but I have no faith in Mike Tomlin or this offense to make us contenders next season.
The fact of the matter is we are now entering a minor rebuild. The team is too talented to enter a full-blown rebuild, unless they blow it up, which historically is not the Steeler way. The main issue for this team going forward is our quarterback prospects are slim at this point. Ben is too old and absolutely is retiring after this season, Mason Rudolph is a back up in this league at best, and unknown Dwayne Haskins is just that. Our only shot at a quarterback in this years draft is seeing if Mac Jones falls to us in the first round. I am not a huge fan of Mac and I'd rather see us use that pick on something like an O-lineman. At the end of the day I believe it is in the Steeler's best interest to try and get Ben to take as big of a paycut as he's willing and just eat the deal for a year. I don't like any restructures that extends his cap hit past this season. After this season I want to be completely done with Ben and his contract. It would be the fresh start that the team needs at this point.