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Steelers, Roethlisberger agree to new 2021 deal; QB essentially gets $5 million pay cut

RAY FITTIPALDO and GERRY DULAC
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) plays against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

The Pittsburgh Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger agreed on a new contract for the 2021 season that will pay him $14 million, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has learned.

The new agreement will bring Roethlisberger’s cap hit down from the $41.2 million hit that was on the books for 2021 to $26.2 million. In essence, Roethlisberger agreed to a $5 million pay cut, and a new signing bonus will be spread out over four voidable years, the Post-Gazette has learned.

Roethlisberger will receive a $1.075 million base salary for 2021 and a signing bonus of $12.925 million. The Steelers can then absorb a one-time cap hit of a little more than $10 million in 2022.

The contract structure all but guarantees the 2021 season will be Roethlisberger’s final one with the Steelers.

“It is my greatest honor to be a Pittsburgh Steeler and give my all for this organization,” Roethlisberger said in a statement released by the team. “I am grateful to be at this stage of my career and more than happy to adjust my contract in a way that best helps the team to address other players who are so vital to our success. I love this game and love to compete, and I believe in this team and my ability to deliver when called upon. It all starts with great preparation and I am ready to go.”

By freeing up $15 million in cap space, the Steelers can attempt to sign some of their 19 players that are set to become free agents on March 17 and add outside free agents to fill the holes on their roster.

Roethlisberger’s return had been in doubt until last week when team president Art Rooney II announced that he would like to have Roethlisberger return next season. That statement came after Rooney and Roethlisberger met.

Previously, general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin had made vague statements that cast doubt about his future with the team.

But Thursday’s news guarantees Roethlisberger will play an 18th season for the franchise that drafted him with the No. 11 overall pick in the 2004 draft. Roethlisberger, who turned 39 on Tuesday, is coming off a roller coaster of a 2020 season in which he started strong but faded late.

Roethlisberger threw 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the first nine games of the season after reconstructive elbow surgery forced him to miss all but six quarters of the 2019 season. But over his final seven games of the season, including a playoff loss to the Browns, Roethlisberger threw 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

In the 48-37 loss to the Browns that ended the Steelers’ season, Roethlisberger threw for 501 yards and four touchdowns, but his four interceptions early in the game led to a 35-7 deficit the Steelers could not overcome.

The Steelers showed signs early on in the process that they believed Roethlisberger wasn’t the entire problem with the team’s poor finish. The Steelers began the season with 11 consecutive victories, but they lost four of their final five games during the regular season and fell from the top seed in the AFC to the No. 3 seed.

A few days after the playoff loss, Tomlin fired offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and offensive line coach Shaun Sarrett. Fichtner’s offense finished last in the NFL in rushing and Rooney said shortly thereafter that he believes an improved running game and more balance can help the Steelers’ offense.

“It’s an important component, I think, in terms of being able to play at the level we want to play at in a place like Pittsburgh,” Rooney said in January. “I think running the ball will be a factor. It should be.”

New offensive coordinator Matt Canada and line coach Adrian Klemm will be tasked with making it happen.

With Roethlisberger under contract, Colbert will now turn his attention to constructing a roster around the quarterback that can remain competitive. The 2021 free agency period begins March 17.

“We know that Ben can still play at a high level and do special things for this team,” Colbert said in a statement. “Our goal remains the same – to put together a roster that will compete for another championship. We are happy that Ben will be one of our leaders to help us accomplish that goal.”