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Holton, ‘Backers Stand Out as Steelers Wrap Preseason with Loss to Carolina

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The Steelers dropped their preseason finale on Thursday, losing 25-19 to the Carolina Panthers to finish the preseason with a 3-1 record.

The backup quarterback battle, which was the main story throughout the preseason, seems to have been all but solved, as second-year passer Mason Rudolph once again did the superior job of moving the offense and providing the only offensive Pittsburgh score.

After Cameron Sutton intercepted Will Grier with less than 30 seconds to play in the first half, Rudolph went up top to Johnny Holton for a 31-yard touchdown pass on a perfectly thrown strike that dropped right into Holton’s breadbasket.

Rudolph finished 7 of 11 for 125 yards and the score. It was the fourth touchdown of the preseason for Rudolph, compared to none for Josh Dobbs and two for Devlin Hodges.

Dobbs started the game against Carolina, but was mostly ineffective, completing 3 of 5 for 21 yards. Two of the three drives he led were three-and-outs.

Rudolph also connected with Holton on a 44-yard bomb earlier in the game. Holton slipped, preventing him from what possibly scoring a touchdown. That play set up a Matthew Wright field goal.

Holton finished with three catches on three targets for 86 yards to lead Steelers receivers. He also had a tackle in kickoff coverage. The former Oakland Raiders speedster perhaps did the best job of making a case for a roster spot in the preseason finale.

The other big battle to watch came at linebacker, where Ulysees Gilbert, Tuzar Skipper, Sutton Smith and Robert Spillane are in the mix for one or two spots.

Gilbert seems to have cemented his status on the 53-man roster. He blocked a field goal and had three tackles on defense while playing a ton of special teams snaps.

Skipper got the special teams playing time he’d been lacking, making two punt cover tackles to go along with six on defense, including two sacks and a forced fumble. The UDFA out of Toledo finished the preseason with five sacks in four games.

But it was also a good night for Skipper’s competition. Smith played his best game. He had one-half of a sack and 2 1/2 tackles for a loss, two quarterback hurries and a pass defended.

Late addition Jay Elliott made a splash play at outside linebacker, as well. The 27-year-old former Green Bay Packer and Dallas Cowboy sacked Grier, forced a fumble, scooped it up and rumbled 88 yards for a first-quarter touchdown.

The Steelers ceded the lead in the second half when rookie corner Justin Layne was beaten deep down the right sideline.

With the preseason in the rear-view mirror, the Steelers will have a couple of days before they’re forced to make 38 cuts to get down to the 53-man minimum by Saturday at 4 p.m.

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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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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