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Devlin Hodges Rewards Steelers’ Trust with Comeback Win

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CINCINNATI — In May, just after the 2019 NFL Draft the Steelers invited rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges to their minicamp at UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on Pittsburgh’s South Side.

Hodges was one of three quarterbacks invited to the three-day camp, and everyone knew that only one would get a job coming out of it. 

The 6-foot-1 Hodges was matched up against 6-foot-5 Tennessee grad Keller Chryst and 6-foot-3 Eastern Michigan alum Brogran Roback. Hodges came to the Steelers from Samford, an FCS school in north-central Alabama.

He looked like a member of the junior varsity. One reporter and sometimes photographer — this reporter and sometimes photographer — lamented a missed opportunity at getting an action photo.

When asked why by a colleague, I responded, “for the story when he gets cut.”

Until he started to throw. Hodges’ arm strength, accuracy and wherewithal in the pocket outshined his lack of size and resume, and he won the Steelers’ fourth quarterback job. That meant he got to stay through summer OTAs and fall training camp.

But it’s far from a guarantee of more than that. With a future Hall of Famer at the helm and two drafted backups ahead of it, it was far from a guarantee that Hodges would develop into more than an afterthought in his Steelers career.

After all, former fourth quarterbacks Bart Houston (2017), Dustin Vaughan (2016), Tajh Boyd (2015) and John Parker Wilson (2014) haven’t exactly remained a large part of the conversation around the team.

But there was something different about Hodges, and it wasn’t just his history as a national champion duck-caller and the nickname that came with it. When he got chances to show what he could do on the field, he turned heads.

In the Steelers’ first preseason game, he completed 8 of 14 passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He threw another TD pass in the second game and was given significant playing time in the team’s preseason finale.

Hodges did not make the team’s 53-man roster out of training camp, but he impressed enough that the Steelers started shopping backup Josh Dobbs. They found a suitor in the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 9 and Hodges was back with the team, set up to be the scout-team quarterback and spend the year on the practice squad.

Six days later, Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season with an elbow injury. Hodges was promoted to the active roster. He played in two games when Mason Rudolph suffered a concussion, winning his only start at the Los Angeles Chargers.

So with Rudolph struggling on Sunday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin sat him down and went to his bench, inserting the 23-year-old undrafted rookie with 40 NFL passes to his name with the Steelers trailing on the road in a must-win game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

It’s an idea that’s not as crazy as it sounds. Cleary, as it worked, with Hodges tossing a 79-yard touchdown in the Steelers’ 16-10 comeback win.

But it’s still notable that Tomlin was willing to put a significant portion of his team’s future in the hands of the youngster, a responsibility that was not lost on Hodges.

“It feels great to know the coaches aren’t afraid to call on me,” Hodges said to Steelers Now. “Every time they’ve called on me, I’ve provided, and Coach Tomlin always says, ‘If I ever ring, if I ever dial … answer.’

“That’s something he says to everybody. It’s all just about being a team. Everyone that’s wearing a helmet, each and every week, has to be prepared to do their job.”


It was one game, and one win, albeit an important one. Tomlin hasn’t made public his plans for who will start next week.

The Steelers’ effort on Sunday, while good enough to moved the hapless Bengals to 0-11, probably wouldn’t have beaten any other NFL team. Rudolph or Hodges, whoever runs the offense will need to be better.

But in the meantime, Tomlin’s words about needed them all ring true, and not just all 53 men on the active roster, but the practice squad, the 90 men in training camp, and even the undersized quarterback brought into rookie camp on a tryout.

Steelers

Art Rooney: Meeting with Ben Roethlisberger ‘Productive,’ Work to Be Done on Contract

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Steelers president Art Rooney II acknowledged his meeting with team quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Tuesday, but said no agreement has been made with regards to his contract situation for the 2021 season.

Rooney said that the team desires to have Roethlisberger return for an 18th season in 2021, and Roethlisberger re-affirmed his desire to return to the team.

“Ben Roethlisberger and I met (Tuesday) morning and we had a productive meeting,” Rooney said in a statement. “We were able to discuss a lot of things that relate to where we are and where we want to go. Ben assured me that he is committed to coming back to help us win, and I told Ben that we would like to have him back to help us win a championship.

“We both understand that the next step is to work out Ben’s contract situation.”

Roethlisberger had already publicly stated that he wanted to return to the team. Rooney and Steelers general manger Kevin Colbert have been more guarded about Roethlisberger’s future in the past.

It seems clear now that both sides are committed to Roethlisberger returning, but the contract details could still represent a significant hurdle. Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.

The Steelers are approximately $12.4 million above a projected $180.5 million salary cap, according to a Steelers Now estimate. The official salary cap for the 2021 has not yet been released, but is expected to be between $180 and $185 million, according to Steelers Now sources. NBC Sports reported on Tuesday that it could come it at $182-183 million.

The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure. They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.

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Steelers

Report: Ben Roethlisberger’s Agent Says He Will Return in 2021

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s agent Ryan Tollner reportedly says he will return as the team’s quarterback in 2021, according to NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala.

Kinkhabwala tweeted Tuesday she had spoken with Tollner, who confirmed the Steelers want Roethlisberger back in the fall, and will soon reach out to his agent to rectify his massive cap hit.

“As we’ve shared since the season ended, we are happy to creatively adjust his contract to help them build the best team possible,” Tollner told Kinkhabwala. “A year ago, Ben wasn’t sure if he could throw again, but he battled back to get 12 wins and the 8th division title of his career. They lost steam down the stretch and that doesn’t sit well for him, so the fire burns strong and there is plenty of gas in the tank.”

The news confirms the Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac’s earlier report that Roethlisberger and the organization met Tuesday, adding it “went well.”

Roethlisberger’s $41 million cap hit is the largest in the league entering the 2021 season, which poses a significant obstacle for the Steelers. He could forgo up to nearly $18 million of his salary for this upcoming season to provide the team some much-needed breathing room.

Roethlisberger finished with a successful season statistically in 2020, but was plagued by inconsistency, as the Steelers dropped five of six following an 11-0 start.

The two-time Super Bowl champion passed for 3,803 yards and 33 touchdowns with ten interceptions, but saw his play drop over the latter half of the year.

Roethlisberger is set to turn 39 years old on March 2.

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Steelers

Report: Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger Met to Discuss Future

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The Pittsburgh Steelers met with star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to begin discussions on his contract situation for the 2021 season, according to a report by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette.

Roethlisberger met with team president Art Rooney II and the meeting “went well,” according to Dulac.

The two sides had not come together to discuss Roethlisberger’s future since just after the end of the 2020 season in January.

Rooney and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert have said that Roethlisberger and the team will need to come to an agreement on contract modifications that will reduce his salary cap hit for the 2021 season.

Roethlisberger is currently set to cost more than $41 million toward the team’s salary cap in 2021. Of that, almost $19 million is able to be modified through either a salary reduction or an extension to move some of that money to 2022 or beyond.

The Steelers are approximately $12.4 million above a projected $180.5 million salary cap, according to a Steelers Now estimate. The official salary cap for the 2021 has not yet been released, but is expected to be between $180 and $185 million, according to Steelers Now sources. NBC Sports reported on Tuesday that it could come it at $182-183 million.

The Steelers will need to be under the maximum salary by March 17. Reducing Roethlisberger’s cap hit is just one of several ways the Steelers can get under the cap figure.

They can also restructure more contracts, as they did with defensive tackle Cam Heyward on Monday, but restructuring alone will not solve the cap issue.

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