Pittsburgh Steelers

Steelers closing in on extension for Ben Roethlisberger

The Pittsburgh Steelers and 37-year-old quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are close to agreement on a contract extension.

During an offseason where his leadership has been called into question by former teammates, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still placing their trust in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger and the Steelers are close to signing a new long-term contract extension, according to a report from Adam Schefter of ESPN. The team wants to get the deal done before the start of the NFL Draft on Thursday. Roethlisberger is entering the final year of a four-year, $87.6 million contract he signed in 2015.

At the same time other quarterbacks are signing record deals with their teams, Roethlisberger’s average salary of $21.85 million ranks just 13th among quarterbacks. Russell Wilson got a four-year, $140 million deal from the Seattle Seahawks last week that pays him an average of $35 million per season, the highest in league history. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers and the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan have also signed $100 million contracts in recent years.

The 37-year-old Roethlisberger, though, had a more productive season than any of them. He led the league with a career-high 5,129 yards passing to go along with 34 touchdowns, also a new career best. But amid his solid play on the field, there were signs that committing to Roethlisberger long-term may not be a good decision for the Steelers.

Despite his career year, the Steelers still missed the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The real drama, however, began after the season when long-time teammates of Roethlisberger began openly criticizing him as a poor leader.

The front office sided with their quarterback, with general manager Kevin Colbert saying the rest of the players on the roster were like Roethlisberger’s children. Not surprisingly, that didn’t sit well with the other players. Running back Le’Veon Bell, who sat out the entire 2018 season in a contract dispute and signed with the New York Jets in the offseason, said not wanting to play with Roethlisberger was a factor in his decison while also accusing his former quarterback of putting himself above the team.

“Quarterbacks are leaders; it is what it is…you’re still a teammate at the end of the day,” Bell said in an interview with Sports Illustrated in March. “You’re not Kevin Colbert. You’re not [owner] Art Rooney.”

“Ben wants to win, but Ben wants to win his way, and that’s tough to play with.”

The biggest defection from Roethlisberger’s side, though, was wide receiver Antonio Brown. For nine years Brown benefited from catching Roethlisberger’s passes. A seven-time All-Pro, Brown leads all receivers in yards and catches since coming into the league in 2010. His entire career was played with Roethlisberger, but after 2018 he finally had enough. Brown spent most of the offseason taking shots at the team and the quarterback, eventually leading to his trade to the Oakland Raiders in March.

“The type of guy he is. He feels like he’s the owner,” Brown said on LeBron James’ HBO show last month.

Roethlisberger is entering his 16th season in the NFL after being drafted by the Steelers in the first round in 2004. He ranks sixth all-time in passing yards, seventh in career touchdowns. But he’s also taken plenty of hits and has missed seven games the past four seasons. He has openly flirted with retirement before.

Signing him to a long-term extension may prove to be a big risk for the Steelers. Another team might think it’s time to start investing in the future, such as Mason Rudolph, the Steelers’ third round pick last year. But after siding with Roethlisberger over Brown and Bell this offseason, it’s a risk they’re clearing willing to make.

Next: NFL Mock Draft if the NFL had a one-and-done rule

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