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Cap Class: Have We Seen the Last of Ben Roethlisberger?

AP Photo / Gene J. Puskar

Cap Class: Have We Seen the Last of Ben Roethlisberger?

Cap Class is a series where I break down the cap to find the amounts associated with the roster, dead money, or future cost of players. Dollar amounts and cap cost may not be exciting, but they can be interesting when you look inside the numbers. I will place explanations inside of {braces}, so if you know how those numbers are found, you can skip over them. So grab your pencils and calculators, and let’s do some math!


General Manager Kevin Colbert interviewed via Zoom stated, “As we sit today, Ben (Roethlisberger) is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers”.  This is the type of resounding endorsement you hear right before a quarterback is moved (see Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins to name a few). So are the Steelers looking to part ways with their franchise quarterback who is about to start his 18th season with the team? If you ask Ben, it sounds like he wants to come back. With the team being noncommittal, it seems that the salary cap and Roethlisberger’s contract are going to be the biggest factors.

It’s tough to admit it, but Roethlisberger is at the end of his career. Eli Manning retired before last year, and Philip Rivers called it quits at the end of this season. They are the big three from the storied 2004 NFL Draft class that will probably see all of them wearing gold jackets one day. The Steelers recognize the end is near, but at the same time they know a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, with the right pieces, can win Pittsburgh another championship. Now we come to the confluence of business and family, and for a family-owned team, they understand both aspects well enough to answer the hard questions. Will Ben Roethlisberger be with the team this year? Let’s look at the numbers.

Roethlisberger is in the last year of his contract, and since he helped the team so much in the past with restructuring, it is now time to pay the piper. His cap hit for the 2021 season is a massive $41.25M. His dead cap number is $22.25M, and that number can not be moved, split or restructured. If Ben retires or is cut, that $22.25M will be on the books for 2021. {Subtract the Cap Number $41.25 by his Dead Cap Number of $22.25 and you are left with this year’s projected payments of $19M = $4M Salary + $15M Roster Bonus}. That big roster bonus is a big reason why the Steelers haven’t made a final decision.  

Another factor to consider is the 2021 NFL salary cap hasn’t been finalized. It will be $175M at the lowest, but that is still $25M less than last year’s cap, and the Steelers are currently $25M over that cap amount. The NFL is also currently completing a TV deal that may see some insane revenue increases, that can push the cap number up considerably. For a team that has been operating at the expected yearly projected cap growth to be between $10M-$12M, the Steelers were in decent shape before the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way football is played, enjoyed, and monetized.  

This is why Roethlisberger returning is such a big story, no one has the necessary information to make a final decision. So since the final numbers are still in a fog, here are two options for the Steelers if they decide to keep their quarterback:

  1. The lowest possible option – Ben Roethlisberger takes a severe pay cut to league minimum for one more run at the title. He’d be paid $1.075M for the year, and would free up $17.925M to help sign some of the many departing free agents. His total cap hit would be $23.325M.
  2. The highest conceivable option – The Steelers rarely take money off the table when restructuring contracts. This isn’t a reduced role situation like Jerome Bettis when he played for league minimum, but was only expected to make a handful of carries each game in short yardage situations. Roethlisberger is expected to run the team as he has his entire career. This would mean the Steelers try to take all of his $19M expected earnings and turn it into a signing bonus for a one-year extension. His cap hit in this instance would be $31.75 reducing his cap amount by $9.5M. 2022 would have a dead cap of $9.5M, but if you had to part ways with Ben at that time, it is a much easier pill to swallow than $22.25M. The salary for 2022 can be written as any amount, since it isn’t guaranteed, but I’d assume it would be in the $20M range and make his total cap hit for 2022 at $29.5M. This still gives the Steelers a two-year option for Roethlisberger to possibly return the next two seasons. 

So now that we see the high ($9.5M saved) and low ($17.925M saved) options, the contract can fall anywhere in between. That money will determine the quantity and quality of free agents the Steelers can sign. We can only hope the salary cap increases from the minimum of $175M, because every dollar it goes up will help the Steelers get under the cap for 2021.

Salary cap information used in this article is from


Do you think Big Ben will return this season? Leave your comments below.


Season ticket holder and lifelong Steeler fanatic. Hosts the Podcast and Steeler Nation Forum Member: Cope

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