NFL: Steelers and a future without Ben Roethlisberger

Following the painful wild-card elimination at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, the six-time Super Bowl-winning team needs to answer several questions.

Ben roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger's future in the NFL is still uncertain. / Photo: Flickr-Andy

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It's been three years since the Pittsburgh Steelers have been talking about the same thing, will Ben Roethlisberger continue? The difference is that this time it is that the painful elimination in the wild card round after a stupendous regular round of 12-4 leads the team to evaluate if it is time to close a cycle and definitely bet on renewal.

The final image of “Big Ben” after the Cleveland Browns game speaks for itself: With an empty field in front of them, nearly $ 56 million in contracts sat together (Big Ben and center Maurkice Pouncey) on the bench. Heinz Field, home of the Steelers. There were no explanations for the elimination in a postseason that ended up being too short.

Possibly, this was the last time that two such important players in the organization shared a moment of reflection. Roethlisberger, 38, and Pouncey, 31, are heading for what will be the last year of their contracts, but will they play?

It is difficult to build for the future if you remain tied to your past and that is exactly what happens to Pittsburgh. Roethlisberger's salary cap reaches $ 41.2 million, and he's an enigma for this long offseason through next September.

Contract restructuring?

The Steelers could do a deep rebuild or extra round of extensions to delay cap charges for one more season to keep the window open for Roethlisberger to a Super Bowl, his unfinished business.

Omar Khan is the manager who heads the Steelers, a franchise identified by its ability to rearm contracts and distribute positions with extensions, but it cannot be forgotten that these tasks are difficult to fulfill when it comes to players in the closings of their careers because they tend to have lower capitalization.

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In addition to "Big Ben" and Pouncey, Cameron Heyward, David DeCastro, Stephon Tuitt, Joe Haden, and Steve Nelson are left with 71% of a projected salary cap at $ 182.4 million, a value that was reduced due to the pandemic.

Roethlisberger's salary alone is more than 40% of the 2021 cap, a significant cost for a team with 19 unrestricted free agents.

For example, if the Steelers decide not to retain any free agents, they are projected to be almost 31 million over the limit with 35 players on the roster, which means that some free agents will have to leave, looking ahead to strengthening areas such as the offensive line, inside linebacker, running back or inside positions, for example.

The 67 passes thrown by Ben Roethlisberger today are a faithful reflection of the offensive inability, lack of running game, and despair into which his offensive plan fell.

What will Big Ben decide?

Surely, the images of that first quarter of terror in which the Browns disarmed their defense and partially beat them 28-0 still pass through Roethlisberger's mind, an advantage they would never lose again.

Faced with such a disadvantage, Pittsburgh's fighting spirit and 'Big Ben' clock hands appeared to get only 12 points closer in the third quarter 23-35. But it wasn't enough and the Cleveland hit the gas in the final 10 minutes after holding out for two quarters to eliminate the Steelers just in the divisional round.

The "Big Ben" is a man used to final instances but emotionally weak in the face of adversity and failure. Roethlisberger took refuge on the side of the field, next to JuJu Smith, and burst into tears when he saw a campaign in which they were the last team to lose undefeated after 11-0.

For many, those Roethlisberger tears could spell farewell, and not just to the yellow and black franchise but to the circuit in general. Amid the sadness, "Big Ben" will have to sit down to analyze what is best for his 38 years and after two rings and six ProBowl. Will he make it easy for the Steelers?

The Steelers remain in the fight. Big Ben connects with Claypool for TD #HereWeGo | #CLEvsPIT pic.twitter.com/Li3di9ejOg

What caused the early removal?

Pittsburgh has accumulated 12 years without lifting the Vince Lombardi trophy and 10 without contesting it after the 48-37 loss to the surprising Browns. The Steelers lost five of their last 6 games, including the postseason, but why? The first factor was the specific injuries of defense such as the inside linebacker, Devin Bush and the outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who after being absent weakened the defense against the race.

Then there's the fact that Pittsburgh's was the worst offense running the ball, in fact 32nd in rushing yards per game at 82.5, just as they were the worst team in yards per carry at 3.6 on the entire circuit, one in which the time of possession usually dictates the outcome of the matches. With no guaranteed men for that job, only James Conner ran for just 721 yards on 169 attempts.

The decisions of coach Mike Tomlin, who preferred to punt rather than play the fourth chance and one yard to go. Responsibility is also handed to the offensive coordinator, Henry Fitchtner, who after 13 years at the club shows little creativity and judgment in decisive situations.

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