Is It Over For Ben Roethlisberger? What Options Do The Steelers Have With Their QB?

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The waning moments of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 48-37 loss at home to the Cleveland Browns in the AFC Wild Card game felt a lot like the end of a football era.

Not that the Steelers won’t go on or that the team is heading for a name change or anything like that, but the current Steelers roster is due for an overhaul, starting with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Since being drafted in the first round in 2004, Roethlisberger has been the face of the franchise, and for good reason.

He’s a future Hall of Famer with two Super Bowl rings. He has set every important Steelers passing record there is.

But, as is often said in sports, no one defeats Mother Nature, and at age 38, it’s clear that Roethlisberger’s best days are behind him.

That didn’t look to be the case earlier in 2020 when he and the Steelers jumped all over a soft schedule to build an 11-0 start. It looked like Roethlisberger and the team were ready to recapture the glory one last time, setting up a memorable playoff matchup in the AFC title game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Then, just like that, the bottom dropped out. They lost four of five to end the season, with the only good football coming in the second half of a must-win home game against the Indianapolis Colts. The team rallied, and Big Ben shined one last time.

Sunday night, the Steelers had everything on their side. Cleveland had to play without their head coach and a number of players, who were struck with a positive COVID-19 test. They had barely practiced all week.

The Browns really had no business even being in the game. They could have easily gone into Pittsburgh, put forth a good showing, and called it a season. Instead, they dominated. They took advantage of four Roethlisberger picks and a bad snap by veteran center Maurkice Pouncey on the very first play that led to a touchdown less than 20 seconds into the game.

The end result was a 48-37 Browns victory, and the lasting image of the night was a somber Roethlisberger on the bench with his head down.

It felt like the end for the quarterback. After the game, Roethlisberger was asked about his feelings and about his chances of coming back to finish the final season of his contract.

“It’s going to start between me and God,” said Roethlisberger. “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.”

If Ben steps away, Pittsburgh will get socked with $22.25 million in dead cap space. The cap charge goes up to $41.25 million if he stays and plays out the deal.

The team and quarterback will have to figure out an extension to make sure they don’t hamstring their own cap, as they’ve got a lot more to deal with than just their 38-year-old quarterback.

There will be time for everyone to take a deep breath and come to a conclusion, but expect an answer on Roethlisberger by the third day of the new league year (which would be March 20th), as he’s due a $15 million roster bonus that day.

Free agents, underwhelming individual performances, and late-season collapses derailed the Steelers’ 2020 year, so their 2021 year began the moment the clock hit triple zeros at Heinz Field Sunday night.

“I don’t know what Ben’s thinking,” Cam Heyward said.

“Every man has to make that decision. A lot of guys are free agents. Ben has been a heck of a teammate, whether it’s battling back from injury or battling back on the field. It’s been a pleasure to play with him. He’s going to be a Hall of Famer one day. To say, ‘I got to play with a guy like that’ is special.”

Written by Matt Loede

Matt has been a part of the Cleveland Sports landscape working in the media since 1994 when he graduated from broadcasting school. His coverage beats include the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers. He's written three books, and won the "2020 AP Sports Stringer Lifetime Service Award."

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