Ben Roethlisberger's future in Pittsburgh remains very much in doubt. Despite Roethlisberger's wiliness to adjust his salary, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert did not express optimism when asked about his quarterback's status for the 2021 season.
Colbert, who drafted Roethlisberger with the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft, said that the team is not currently negotiating with Roethlisberger, according to Steelers.com's Missi Matthews. Colbert added that Roethlisberger has met with him, coach Mike Tomlin and team president Art Rooney II. Instead of calming the waters as it relates to Roethlisberger's future, Colbert offered a grim yet transparent update in terms of where things currently are with Roethlisberger and the organization.
"With Ben's current cap number, some adjustments will have to be made," Colbert said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "Hopefully there's a way we can figure out what's best for the organization. Hopefully he can see that and feel the same way. There's a lot of work to be done."
According to Spotrac, Roethlisberger has a base salary of $4,000,000 and a roster bonus of $15,000,000 in 2021, while carrying a cap hit of $41,250,000. As CBS Sports' Joel Corry noted last month, the Steelers compounded the Roethlisberger problem last March when they lowered his 2020 cap number from $33.5 million to $23.75 million by converting $19.5 million of his $21 million 2020 compensation into a signing bonus. Roethlisberger's 2021 cap number was raised by $9.75 million in the process.
"We've been, I think, up front with Ben in letting him know that we couldn't have him back under the current contract and so I think he understands we have some work to do there," Rooney II said last month, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. "We'll have more conversations. We'll have more conversations internally. We'll have more conversations with Ben. Obviously we'll have to know what the cap number is at some point to finalize some of those decisions."
Shorty after Rooney's quotes went public, Roethlisberger told The Athletic's Ed Bouchette that he would be willing to do whatever it takes from a contract standpoint in order to return in 2021.
"I want to do everything I can," Roethlisberger said, "and made that very clear to them from the very beginning that it was my idea to basically help the team however I can this year."
While Roethlisberger's contract is a legitimate concern, the elephant in the room is whether or not the Steelers are using Roethlisberger's contract as an excuse to part ways with the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback. While his 2020 season started successfully as the Steelers went 11-0, Roethlisberger's play faded during the final six games of the season. After throwing just four interceptions in Pittsburgh's first 10 games, Roethlisberger threw 10 interceptions during his final seven starts. His four interceptions largely contributed to the Steelers' wild-card playoff loss to the Browns.
Roethlisberger's regression was not entirely his fault. His receivers dropped a significant amount of passes during Pittsburgh's three-game losing streak following its 11-0 start. The Steelers' rushing attack failed to complement Roethlisberger and the passing attack, as Pittsburgh finished 32nd in rushing last season. Roethlisberger also played with an often predicable game plan that contributed to Randy Fichtner's contract not being renewed by the Steelers this offseason.
While Roethlisberger's overall body of work last season suggests that he can still play at a high level, his age, salary and the current state of the Steelers may result in the Steelers moving in a different direction at quarterback. The Steelers will go through somewhat of a transitional period in 2021. Maurkice Pouncey recently retired, and the team will likely lose other prevalent players like Alejandro Villanueva, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner and Bud Dupree, among others.
The Steelers' brass is likely considering what Roethlisberger's return would mean for the team's future at the position. Mason Rudolph is entering the final year of his rookie contract. If Roethlisberger does not return for the '21 season, that would give the Steelers one year to determine whether or not to move forward with Rudolph as Roethlisberger's successor. If Roethlisberger comes back, that could put Rudolph's future with the team in limbo.
Expect the Steelers to make a decision on Roethlisberger's future by March 19, when he would be due a $15 million as part of his roster bonus. Until then, speculation will likely continue as it relates to Roethlisberger's future with the Steelers.
"As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers," Colbert said on Wednesday, via ESPN's Brooke Pryor. "He reiterated to us that he wants to continue to play. We told him we have to look at this current situation."