There have not been substantive negotiations between the Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, general manger Kevin Colbert said on Wednesday while meeting with members of the Pittsburgh media, including Alan Saunders of Steelers Now.
Steelers president Art Rooney II said earlier this offseason that Roethlisberger had informed the team of his desire to return for his 18th season in 2021, and added that the Steelers made it clear that Roethlisberger returning to the team would require a substantial renegotiating of his contract, currently set to count for over $41 million against the 2021 cap.
Those meetings occurred in the days immediately following the Steelers’ exit from the 2020 NFL Playoffs with a first-round loss to the Cleveland Browns.
After Rooney’s remarked, Roethlisberger confirmed to multiple media outlets his desire to return to the team and that he did consider his salary for this upcoming season to be an issue.
The Steelers could ask Roethlisberger to forgo up to $19 million of his salary, or sign him to a contract extension in order to push some of that money into future seasons. But Colbert said no progress on such a deal has been made and that negotiations are not currently ongoing.
“Hopefully, there’s a way that we can try to figure out and do what’s best for the organization and what’s best for Ben,” Colbert said. “Hopefully he’ll be able to see that and feel the same way we do. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not only with Ben, with the whole unrestricted free agent class and our whole cap situation as well.”
BEN ROETHLISBERGER 2021 CAP STATUS
Current: $41 million
If released or retired: $22.25 million
If he takes a pay cut or extends his contract: At least $23.325 million
One of the hold-ups appears to be uncertainty about the 2021 salary cap upper limit, which has not been released by the NFL yet and is not expected for several weeks. The NFL and NFLPA have agreed to a minimum cap of $175 million, which would represent a significant decline. There has been speculation that the final figure could come in the $180 to $185 million range, though that remains premature.
The cap factors into the team’s discussions with Roethlisberger in multiple ways. The team must be below the salary cap threshold before the March 17 start of the new league year. Pittsburgh currently sits at $24 million over a fairly conservative $180 million cap estimate, so if Roethlisberger’s re-worked contract is not enough to make up the difference, other players will need to be restructured or released.
The final salary cap number will also impact the quality of team that the Steelers are able to surround Roethlisberger with. With a lower cap number, even if Roethlisberger takes a pay cut to bare-bones levels, offensive free agents like James Conner, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Alejandro Villanueva are unlikely to be able to be re-signed by the team, which could play a factor in if Roethlisberger is willing to make those concessions or return at all.
Colbert also gave a less-enthusiastic assent of Roethlisberger’s play than he did a year ago at this time, despite the fact that then, Roethlisberger had yet to return from the elbow injury that cost him the entire 2019 season. Colbert said “we anticipate he could do some good things,” and acknowledged that the situation between the team and its longtime quarterback is not just about the salary cap, but about whether brining Roethlisberger back for what appears to be a struggle of a season is the right thing for the franchise.
“It’s all of the above,” he said.