Beyond that, though, Colbert was lukewarm in his assessment of the franchise quarterback’s future with the organization.
“As we sit here today, Ben is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Colbert said. “… He reiterated that to us that he wants to continue to play, and we told him quite frankly we have to look at this current situation. … With Ben’s current cap number, some adjustment will have to be made.”
Team owner and CEO Art Rooney II told reporters last month that the soon-to-be 39-year-old quarterback’s $41.2 million cap hit for the 2021 season was untenable. Later the same day, Roethlisberger told The Athletic he was willing to work with the team and said he didn’t “care ’bout my pay at all this year!”
Colbert placed emphasis on finding a solution that would benefit both the organization and the quarterback it drafted 11th overall in 2004.
“Ben Roethlisberger is on the team,” the general manager said Wednesday. “Ben Roethlisberger did a lot of really good things last year. We anticipate that he could still do some good things going forward.
“Hopefully there’s a way that we can try to figure out and do what’s best for the organization and do what’s best for Ben. Hopefully he’ll be able to see that and feel the same way we do. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done, not only with Ben, with the whole unrestricted free-agent class and our whole cap situation as well.”
Colbert said the assessment of Roethlisberger’s future with the organization begins with the financial situation for the 2021 season. If Roethlisberger retires or is cut, he would still count $22.25 million against the cap. If the team opts to give him an extension and convert his base salary and roster bonus into a signing bonus spread out over multiple years, the most the team can reduce his cap hit to is $27.125 million. Though it’s not likely, Roethlisberger could also opt to play for the minimum and take a pay cut of $17.925 million, but his cap hit would still be $23.325 million.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to significantly lower the salary cap — though it can’t drop below $175 million — the Steelers are firmly in cap trouble. ESPN’s roster management system currently projects the Steelers to be over the cap by more than $22 million. The team must be cap-compliant by the start of the new league year on March 17.
“We were all dealt a loss through the pandemic, and we have to deal with that accordingly. And we will,” Colbert said. “It’s not unique to us. Two-thirds of the league is facing similar issues. How that all comes together in the next few weeks, we’ll continue to look at it.
“It is first and foremost financially because we have to be in compliance,” he added. “Then we’re making guesstimates as to what we can do to put the best team together for our sake and for Ben’s sake. What kind of team can he anticipate being around him if we decide we can move forward together.”
When Roethlisberger met with Steelers brass shortly after the season, the group agreed they would met again “down the road” once some other factors like available free agents and cap number became more clear. Colbert declined to say specifically if he has met with Roethlisberger since or when he will meet again to sort out the future.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Colbert said. “It just doesn’t involve him. It involves the players around him. I’m sure he’s going to want to see what type of team we can keep together under our current situation. Hopefully we can all make the correct adjustments to keep the group together as much as possible.”
In addition to figuring out Roethlisberger’s situation, Colbert admitted that re-signing any of the team’s 19 unrestricted free agents, such as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, given the cap constraints will be difficult. But before they can truly evaluate free-agency options, the Steelers must determine the future of its quarterback.
“Going back on Ben’s 2020, he really did do some special things,” Colbert said. “In the beginning of the year, we talked about watching what he was doing because he was doing some incredible feats as we were building that 11-0 record. A lot of that was him performing in crucial times in games. Down the stretch, he didn’t play as good, but we didn’t play as good around him.
“Can he still do some special things? Absolutely. Did he do that to his expectations? I think he’d be the first to tell you, no. Ben cares about one thing: He cares about winning a Super Bowl. He’s no different than us. When it doesn’t happen, he’s never going to be satisfied. So hopefully whatever team we come up with in 2021, that will be a team that again we’re not talking about losing a first-round playoff game.”