Better late than never.
I’ve seen some grumbling over the Pittsburgh Steelers utter inaction during the initial days of NFL free agency. The team certainly has a lot of holes and only so many chances to fill them. After yesterday’s announcement, however, it will be hard for me to judge this off-season too harshly. The Black and Gold signed their best player, their cornerstone, to a long term deal on Friday which makes it an automatic win.
Ben Roethlisberger is going to stay in Pittsburgh for what should be the remainder of his career after signing a brand new five year deal.
Actually, it’s more of a four year deal as the contract expires after the 2019 season. The fifth year replaces what he had in place for this upcoming season, the final one under his previous contract. I was going to post this glorious news when it broke late yesterday afternoon but I wanted to wait until I heard specific contract details. Well, here we are a day later and evidently there are no details to be had as both the Steelers and Big Ben reportedly want to keep the financial numbers between themselves.
Man, I know the Steelers are laughably secretive to the point their head coach’s weekly press conferences go past being vague to featuring a steady stream of bold faced lies but now they don’t even want to reveal how much they’re paying their players?
What I’m pretty sure of is the reason they included 2015 in the deal is to lower his cap hit for the upcoming season. Ben was slated to count $18 million against our current cap ($11.5 million in salary, $6.5 signing bonus) which can be lowered by either lumping that bonus in with the bonus from the extra four years – the cap charge for signing bonuses are spread equally over the length of a deal – or converting some of this year’s base salary to a signing bonus to be paid over the length of the new deal. With only a little over $6 million in cap space going into the off-season, the Steelers badly needed clear space so they could begin addressing the rest of the roster.
Of course, the secretive nature of their dealings have led our old friend Mike Florio at PFT to speculate somebody is embarrassed by the deal. Either Ben signed for way below his expected market value or the Steelers grossly overpaid for what will be a 38 year old QB when the deal expires. Ben’s previous deal was 6 years for $106 million so I’m sure this new one pays him in the neighborhood of $20 million/year. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did take a bit less. Tom Brady signed for below value to help the Patriots and Peyton Manning recently took a $4 million pay cut to remain with the Broncos so I have no doubt a team player like Ben – who badly wants to play his entire career in one city – would accept a deal that pays him $7-8 million less than he’d get on the open market.
Bottom line is this deal had to be done. Big Ben is coming off the best season of his career – he tied with Drew Brees for the league lead in passing yardage – as he’s flourished under offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The Steelers offense is easily one of the league’s most explosive and a great deal of that credit goes to their quarterback. I’m not sure how Ben will age – guys like Brady and Manning have taken a tenth of the abuse Ben has over their careers – but he should continue to play at an elite level for the immediate future. Whether he’s still the same guy at the end of his deal when he’s in his 16th season in the NFL is a concern for another day.
The Steelers don’t want to win the off-season like the Dolphins or Colts have done, they want to win during the regular season. And there’s no doubt their best chance to bring Lombardi Trophy number seven back here to the ‘Burgh is with number seven behind center. Now and for many years to come.