Ben Roethlisberger: 'My idea' to approach Pittsburgh Steelers and offer to take pay cut

JOE RUTTER
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger knew not long after the sting of that 48-37 playoff loss to the Cleveland Browns wore off that he wanted to return for an 18th season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He also was aware that some financial leeway was necessary to make that happen.

Roethlisberger revealed Monday that it was his decision to approach Steelers ownership and offer to take a pay cut for the 2021 season. In March, he signed a restructured contract that included a $5 million pay reduction and provided $15 million in salary cap relief for the organization.

"It was my idea," Roethlisberger said after the conclusion of the Steelers' fourth organized team activities session. "I told them I want to help the team out however we can."

In January, team president Art Rooney II said the Steelers informed Roethlisberger that he couldn't return under the terms of his original contract, which included $19 million in base salary and a $41.25 million cap hit — the highest of any NFL player.

Roethlisberger said he was in sync with that thinking.

"I went to them and told them I'll do whatever I could to help the team sign the guys that are going to help us win football games," Roethlisberger said. "I've been extremely blessed to play this game a long time. That was one of the reasons I wanted to come back. I knew we had a great defense and amazing weapons on offense.

"I wanted to come back and be part of a special football team, one that everyone is overlooking, which is kind of cool, too. In order to help get the guys, I felt it was necessary to do that."

The salary cap savings provided by Roethlisberger's restructure helped the Steelers get compliant in a year in which the cap fell from $198.2 million to $182.5 million. The Steelers managed to bring back JuJu Smith-Schuster, Zach Banner, Cam Sutton and Tyson Alualu, among others.

Making a quick decision: Rather than take his time and contemplate his future deep into the offseason — as he has done occasionally in the past — Roethlisberger told the Steelers in January that he wanted to return to fulfill the final year of his contract.

"I felt it was the right thing to do if I wanted to play," he said. "I felt relatively healthy, all things considered at the end of the season. It just felt like I had more in the tank and felt disappointed with the way the season ended, obviously, and I hated to go out that way."

The loss to the Browns in the wild-card round came in a game in which Roethlisberger threw four interceptions despite passing for 501 yards and four touchdowns. After starting the season 11-0, the Steelers lost five of their final six games.

In his first season back since undergoing right elbow surgery, Roethlisberger struggled down the stretch and admitted to being "worn down" late in the season.

"I didn't play well enough at the end of the season," he said. "It's no secret, and I'll be the first to point the thumb at myself. When you have the ball in your hand every play, you have to make plays and play better football. If the quarterback isn't playing good football, especially late in the season, it's directly related to winning and losing."

He won't commit beyond 2021: The restructured contract included four voidable years, making Roethlisberger a free agent in 2022. Roethlisberger, though, wouldn't say whether he is committed to playing next year, when he would be 40 years old.

"I want to approach this like I do every season — like it's my last," he said. "I think that is the approach you have to take. You don't approach it that way because it could be your last, you approach it because every single play in the game of football could be your last. Every game in football could be your last game. That just means I'm going to give everything I have. I've never looked toward the future. I've always looked toward the right here and right now. That's what is important for me for this season. I want to give everything I have right here and right now for this group of guys."

Tom Brady, though, left New England after 20 seasons to join Tampa Bay, and Aaron Rodgers has requested a trade following 16 seasons in Green Bay.

"I'm black and gold through and through," Roethlisberger said. "I didn't want to go anywhere. That's what I told the Rooneys and coach Tomlin. I want to be here. I don't want to be anywhere else. This is home to me. Almost half of my life has been here playing football for the Steelers. That is why I told them I'd take a pay cut to stay here to help this team. This is what I believe in, this group and this city. To each quarterback out there, to each their own. To me, this is home, and I'm honored to have my career be here."