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Saunders: QB Controversy Just Means Steelers Still Looking for Roethlisberger’s Successor

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CINCINNATI — Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 37 years old. By the time he takes another snap under center, he’ll have turned 38.

That’s not exactly a spring chicken. Roethlisberger’s start of the 2019 of the season tied him with legendary center Mike Webster for the longest career, season-wise, in team history.

With good reason, the Steelers’ plan for the AfterBen, has been widely speculated, but never firmly laid out.

At one point, it looked like Josh Dobbs had a chance to earn status as Roethlisberger’s successor. He was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars in September.

The Steelers used a third-round pick on Mason Rudolph in the 2018 NFL Draft, assuring him at least a good opportunity at being the next Steelers starting quarterback, simply as a result of the draft capital expended to acquire him.

When Roethlisberger was lost to the season with an elbow injury, Rudolph got that chance. On Sunday, he was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges, who led the Steelers from behind and over the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mike Tomlin has not revealed his plans for who will start next Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, and for the moment, it seems that the Steelers have a bona fide quarterback controversy.

While he’s not tipping his hand, Tomlin’s decision to bench Rudolph already tells a good part of the story. When doctors opened up Roethlisberger’s elbow in early September, the Steelers’ realistic chances of winning a Super Bowl were dashed.

The opportunity that lay in front of the Steelers for the remainder of 2019 was not stock the Rooney Family trophy case with Lombardi No. 7, but to identity if the Steelers have quarterback that will let them do that or not.

When Hodges grabbed his helmet on Sunday, it was a sure sign that the team no longer believes Rudolph can be that player.

Yes, the Steelers needed the win over the Bengals to preserve their No. 6 position in the AFC Wild Card battle, but realistically, even if the Steelers could pull of a Wild Card-round upset, would even the largest zealots in Steelers Nation like their odds of a late-December win in Foxborough?

Rudolph has struggled, clearly. If the Steelers think he can be their quarterback of the future, job one for the rest of the year would be letting him work through those struggles, find his form and potentially challenge Roethlisberger for a starting job in 2020.

He wants and probably needs, for his development, to be given that chance.

But if the Steelers’ braintrust has already decided that Rudolph is not the answer, then the right play is to start whichever quarterback Tomlin and Randy Fichtner think gives them the best shot of earning that postseason bid, giving the rest of the team valuable playoff experience, even if it ends in a loss.

That’s how Duck Hodges ends up in the game. Hodges, while effective in leading the Steelers to a victory, has hardly been a dynamo in his three games. There’s good reason Tomlin waited through five Rudolph interceptions over five quarters and continued giving him chances before pulling the plug.

Just based on his status as an undrafted rookie, there’s a strong probability that Duck isn’t the answer, either. There have been a few — Kurt Warner being the last — undrafted quarterbacks to lead their team to a Super Bowl. But it’s clearly the exception and not the rule.

So whichever player start on Sunday against the Browns, the big takeaway from the Steelers quarterback controversy that once again, they’re still looking for their starter in the AfterBen.

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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