Dating back to the 2004 NFL Draft, Ben Roethlisberger has been the enigmatic quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers — through good times and bad. Yet, his time in the black and gold seems to be ending sooner rather than later, even if his playing career may not be over quite yet.
Various reports have begun to surface, detailing the delicate cat and mouse game that the Steelers front office and Ben Roethlisberger have been playing this offseason. Having already contemplated retirement for the past few offseasons, the former Miami of Ohio signal-caller is just about to cross the 39-year-old threshold, and with it may come a new team.
Having only played in a full 16-game season four times across his 15-year career, Roethlisberger’s health is the first and foremost issue plaguing the PIT front office – and even with general manager Kevin Colbert’s comments about his ‘current commitment’ to Ben Roethlisberger earlier this offseason, the cards seem to be stacked in favor of Big Ben being forced to either play on a severely-reduced salary for ‘21 or to move on.
As his current deal is structured, Ben Roethlisberger holds a $41.25 million salary-cap charge, according to OvertheCap.com. This figure is broken into dead money and cap savings if he was released – $22.25 million would constitute dead money for PIT and $19 million would result in cap savings, creating a red figure of $3.25 million.
With all teams cash strapped with the flat salary cap for the ‘21 season, keeping Ben Roethlisberger’s salary on their cap sheet is a tough pill to swallow, which is why these three teams loom as potential options if the Steelers were to move on from their franchise QB.
Possible Ben Roethlisberger landing spots:
San Francisco 49ers
The likelihood of Ben Roethlisberger wanting to play for a team that is not in postseason contention holds less than a zero percent chance of happening, which helps boost the status of the San Francisco 49ers. With head coach Kyle Shanahan looking for a better solution to his QB woes than what oft-injured Jimmy Garoppolo brings to the table, he could do far worse than Roethlisberger for 1-2 seasons.
First, the financials of moving on from Garoppolo have to be considered when thinking about Ben Roethlisberger. For the Niners, the contract that the former Eastern Illinois product is currently on is set up in a way to help them get out of it without suffering cap-stuffing dead money amounts, which is perfect for a year like this next one.
Garoppolo is still under contract for the ‘21 and ‘22 seasons, holding guaranteed figures of $0 for both years. Holding $24.1 and $24.2 million base salaries, respectively, for each season are high numbers for a guy that has 1) trouble staying on the field and 2) producing when healthy, but they are not all that hindering for SF.
If designated as a post-June 1 cut, Garoppolo would only hold $1.4 million in dead money for the Niners both this year and next, saving a cumulative $50.6 million over that same span. Fitting a one-year, incentive-focused deal with a team option for a second year, with both years sitting around the $12 – $15 million mark for Ben Roethlisberger, would benefit both sides.
Shanahan’s system relies on a semi-mobile QB (which Roethlisberger is not), but surrounding him with a solid core of running backs, George Kittle, and an up-and-coming group of receivers, as well as a strong defense, and Ben Roethlisberger gets put back into a situation that made him comfortable in the steel city.
All SF would need to do is work on re-solidifying that offensive line and finding a long-term solution at QB, and Shanahan would be back to being the best coach in the NFC West.
Washington Football Team
The team that may have the toughest time in recruiting Big Ben’s services, the Washington Football Team has a long-developing QB problem on their hands, something they thought that had solved with the drafting of Dwayne Haskins. Maturity problems led them to release him (coincidentally enough, he signed with the Steelers), and they now have Alex Smith and postseason heartthrob Taylor Heinicke leading the charge.
Smith, who was drafted one year after Ben Roethlisberger, has made a miraculous return from a leg injury that probably should have ended his career right then and there. Having won the Comeback Player of the Year award last year was a fitting and very deserving honor for the former Niners QB, but his play on the field has taken a steady decline, leading the team to have to face a tough decision.
$8.6 million in dead money for ‘21 and ‘22 combined, versus savings of $40 million if cut after June 1 makes WAS moving on from Smith, albeit a tough decision, an easy one at the same time.
For Heinicke, he just signed a two-year extension to remain with the club, and the long-time journeyman option has been given a long-term vote of confidence by the front office, something that does not seem to last long in Washington. What can be taken away from this offseason for Washington so far is that both Heinicke and Smith are nothing more than stop-gap options, which is exactly what Ben Roethlisberger would be too.
What sets him apart from the two incumbent options is that his winning pedigree would do wonders for a team that has one of the best defensive units in the league, and giving RB Antonio Gibson, WR Terry McLaurin, and TE Logan Thomas a strong QB beside them would be great for their development. This team seemed to take another leap last season, taking advantage of an extreme down year for the NFC East, and Ben Roethlisberger would be a nice plug-in option for 1-2 seasons with this team.
Sitting with a good amount of cap space, Ben Roethlisberger would be an interesting FA addition, and would look great behind OL Brandon Scherff if the team was able to bring the stalwart back.
New England Patriots
Do you like full-circle careers? Let’s see Ben Roethlisberger team up with big bad Bill Belichick for a year or two and do some damage in the AFC East.
After their yearly battles in the postseason between these two, having Big Ben team up with Belichick in Foxborough would be such an interesting storyline to follow, even if only for a season.
There is no long-term QB option currently in New England – Jarrett Stidham and Jacob Dolegala make up the current ranks for the Pats, which is not even in the same realm as below average. Currently sitting around $145 million in cap commitments, the Patriots have some wiggle room to fit a larger deal in, and adding Ben Roethlisberger in while drafting a developable QB (i.e. Mac Jones) would do this team well.
The AFC East is the Buffalo Bills’ division at this current time, but the Pats are not far off from being able to boast a competitive team to push the Bills, and all Ben Roethlisberger would do is help push that non-competitive window down the road a few years, all the while giving the rookie QB time to develop and learn the ropes of an NFL offense.
While Ben Roethlisberger does not resemble a player that is very interested in holding down a mentor role, he could do much worse than produce a super interesting final season or two, and joining up in NE during a transitional period could help pad his stats and help Belichick look even better (cause who doesn’t want that).