Big Ben isn’t exactly getting a vote of confidence for 2021 from his head coach.
Four days removed from Ben Roethlisberger’s teary-eyed defeat in the wild-card round, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin made a number of curious comments about his quarterback’s future in Pittsburgh.
“I don’t have a clear assessment of the overall depth of the cap ramifications, but I think it’s reasonable to assume there’s a chance he’ll be back, certainly,” Tomlin told reporters on Wednesday “We haven’t made any decisions about any personnel along those lines.”
Roethlisberger — who turns 39 in March — is under contract through the 2021 season. He inked a two-year, $68 million deal in 2019 which carries a $41.25 million cap hit in 2021 ($22.25 million dead cap), per Spotrac. His cap hit could be an untenable liability for the Steelers, considering they must find space for 26 free agents — including receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and running back James Conner — under a salary cap that is expected to shrink this offseason, especially in light of Roethlisberger’s waning performance.
After missing all but two games in 2019 due to an elbow injury, the 2004 first-round pick was determined to make a comeback for his 17th NFL season. Coach Tomlin admitted there was a “high level of concern” about Roethlisberger’s health and abilities, per NFL.com, which turned out to be warranted.
The six-time Pro Bowler began the season strong, but was visibly hampered by waning health and injuries down the stretch. After leading Pittsburgh to 11 straight wins, the Steelers lost three straight and four of their last five to end the year. Roethlisberger finished with a 65.6 completion percentage for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions through 15 starts.
With the No. 1 seed already locked up by the Chiefs, the Steelers opted to rest Roethlisberger in Week 17 heading into the AFC wild-card round against the Browns. They were heavily favored due in part to the COVID-19 outbreak in Cleveland, which forced head coach Kevin Stefanski to miss the game.
Roethlisberger completed 47 of 68 attempts for 501 yards, four touchdowns and four costly interceptions. The contest ended 48-37, leaving many wondering if the two-time Super Bowl champion would be moving on after this year.
“It’s going to start between me and God,” Roethlisberger told reporters after the game. “Lot of praying. And a lot of talking with my family. I still have a year left on my contract. I hope the Steelers want me back if that’s the way we go.”
After the stunning loss, Tomlin vaguely acknowledged the need for change.
“It has been a disappointment. I’m not going to maintain status quo and hope the outcome changes. That’s the definition of insanity,” he told reporters on Wednesday via ESPN.
Tomlin, 48, has served as the Steelers’ head coach since 2007 and boasts an impressive 145-78-1 regular season record.