PITTSBURGH — That the Steelers are talking about extending Ben Roethlisberger one year after the quarterback entertained retirement is a major victory for a team whose master plan appears to be at work.
Try to sign Le’Veon Bell in the short term, the plan goes, then start reworking the final two years of Roethlisberger’s current contract with something bigger, either this offseason or next.
Team president Art Rooney II rolled out both of those possibilities in a conference-table interview with a small group of reporters Wednesday, and these parts might just be mutually exclusive.
The Steelers have two premier players at their positions who couple with Antonio Brown to form the game’s best offensive trio. Re-signing each ensures Roethlisberger has the pieces he needs as he plays into his late 30s.
Roethlisberger’s future is undoubtedly the most crucial element here. Since he signed in 2015, the quarterback market has ballooned to $25-plus million per year thanks to Matthew Stafford and eventually Kirk Cousins.
Here’s what Roethlisberger told me at the Pro Bowl when I asked him about this:
“For me, it’s about the team, what’s going on,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not going to sit there and say certain guys aren’t deserving of it, whether it’s on our team or other teams. There are quarterbacks in this league that have been very, very good. There’s been some that maybe haven’t produced as much, but when teams feel they have a franchise quarterback, they are going to pay him as they feel is necessary. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
The Steelers have a franchise quarterback, and paying him what’s necessary would probably require that $25-million-per-year mark, or more. But Pittsburgh wouldn’t have to go crazy on contract years (three seems in line with what Roethlisberger has told teammates), and the team could reduce his current cap number of $23 million with some signing-bonus maneuvering.
This would be an easy decision, one the Steelers won’t overthink.
Bell’s contract matter isn’t so clear-cut because of his conviction to set a healthier market for running backs. This negotiation could drag out, even if Bell is confident both parties can bypass the franchise tag and deal in earnest. But Roethlisberger’s best performances are tied to Bell, which the Steelers also won’t overlook. Roethlisberger was impressive over the final seven games, with more than 2,422 yards passing. Bell accounted for 492 of those yards on 54 receptions. Arguably Roethlisberger’s best statistical year as a pro, 2014, came while Bell was racking up 854 receiving yards.
The two complement each other well, and as Roethlisberger pointed out at the Pro Bowl, Bell has grown as a receiver. Those extra 40 to 50 yards each game help keep the no-huddle offense going.
The Steelers have work to do to complete the defensive rebuilding job that hit a wall at the end of the season. They can do so with bargain free agency and the draft. Signing Roethlisberger alleviates the need to draft a developmental quarterback, while Bell, at age 25, has at least a few years as a workhorse in the offense.