Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made official Friday what everyone else had surmised for weeks — he was going to return for the 2017 season. His plans for beyond the 2017 season? Well, Roethlisberger only committed to playing next season when he announced his intentions on Twitter Friday afternoon:
"Informed the team I am looking forward to my 14th season. Steeler Nation will get my absolute best! — Ben."
— BigBen7.com (@_BigBen7) April 7, 2017
Roethlisberger sparked speculation about possibly walking away from the final three years of his lucrative contract a few days after the AFC championship when he said on 93.7 The Fan: “I’m going to take this offseason to evaluate, to consider all options, to consider health and family and things like that and just kind of take some time away to evaluate next season — if there’s going to be a next season.”
It was the first time Roethlisberger had talked about retirement publicly, but coach Mike Tomlin said a few days later that he and Roethlisberger had discussed his long-term future in other years.
Walking away from the game now wouldn’t have been simple for Roethlisberger. He signed a five-year, $99 million contract in March 2015 that included a $31 million signing bonus. If he retired the Steelers could have asked him to pay back a portion of the signing bonus in addition to forfeiting the final three years of the contract that is set to pay him $36 million in salary, $12 million each season through 2019.
For the past two months, little had been said about the retirement talk. The Steelers made it known they were proceeding with plans to have Roethlisberger, who turned 35 last month, at the helm for the 2017 season.
“As an organization, we have been hopeful that Ben would return this year,” Tomlin told the Steelers’ website Friday. “Ben and I have had many conversations, and I understood at this point in his career he is going to have to think about his long-term future. There is no question Ben wants to win championships for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and we know he will do everything possible to lead our entire team to achieving that goal.”
The Steelers came close to that goal last season before they fell to New England, 36-17, in the AFC championship game. With the likely return of receiver Martavis Bryant, the Steelers are expected to be among the contenders again in the AFC.
The Steelers have been scouting quarterbacks in advance of the NFL draft and had potential first-round pick Patrick Mahomes of Texas Tech and potential mid-round pick Joshua Dobbs of Tennessee in for visits at the UMPC Rooney Sports Complex earlier this week.
The Steelers are not expected to take a quarterback high in the draft, but they could draft one later to mold behind Roethlisberger and backup Landry Jones, who signed a two-year contract last month to remain in his current role.