Art Rooney II

Steelers Not Ruling Out Ben Roethlisberger Return In 2022

For a while this offseason, it looked like the Steelers might not bring Ben Roethlisberger back. Then they reached an agreement on a revised contract (with Roethlisberger taking a pay-cut) that would keep him in the fold for 2021, but it seemed the writing was on the wall that this would be his last go-round with Pittsburgh.

Steelers owner Art Rooney II is saying not so fast. Although Roethlisberger isn’t under contract for 2022, “it’s not written in stone that this is his last year,” Rooney told reporters at training camp, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com. He didn’t exactly offer a ringing endorsement of the prospect of multiple more years of Big Ben, however.

We’re aware this could be Ben’s last year,” he said. “We hope it’s a great one. That’s as far as we can go with it right now. Obviously, if this is his last year, then next year we’ll be making decisions on a quarterback, and we’ll address it as the time comes up.” 

Perhaps the Steelers aren’t ruling out Roethlisberger coming back simply because they don’t have many other options currently. They gave Mason Rudolph a mini-extension to make him the only passer under contract for 2022, and the former third-round pick has said he hopes to start in 2022. Rudolph hasn’t looked particularly promising in his nine career NFL starts, but he hasn’t been a complete disaster either.

Beyond Rudolph, the team also has Joshua Dobbs and former Washington first-round pick Dwayne Haskins currently on the roster. Pittsburgh, of course, started off 11-0 last year before completely falling apart down the stretch as Roethlisberger and the offense struggled.

Roethlisberger looked like his arm might not have much left at times last season, but to be fair he was coming off major elbow surgery. Big Ben turned 39 in March, and it’ll be very interesting to see how much he’s got left in the tank physically when the Steelers kickoff their season Week 1 against the Bills.

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Ben Roethlisberger Meets With Art Rooney II

Plenty of eyebrows were raised last week when Steelers GM Kevin Colbert sounded unenthused (to put it kindly) about the prospect of Ben Roethlisberger returning in 2021. Colbert gave the classic GM-speak kiss of death of “as we sit here today, Ben Roethlisberger is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers,” and also said “quite frankly, we need to look at the situation.”

Then adding further fuel to the fire, Aditi Kinkhabwala of ESPN.com tweeted that the team still hadn’t reached out to Big Ben to set up a time to talk about his contract. Either it’s just funny timing, or someone within the building was reading Kinkhabwala’s tweets, because that’s no longer the case. Roethlisberger has met with Steelers owner Art Rooney II, Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette tweets.

He doesn’t have many details, but sources told Dulac that the meeting “went well.” Of course, we’ve heard all offseason that Pittsburgh isn’t interested in bringing Roethlisberger back at his $40MM+ cap charge, and that he’ll need to restructure his deal to return for one more ride.

To his credit Roethlisberger has said that’s fine by him, and that he doesn’t care what he ends up making in 2021. Right after the season ended it looked like Big Ben returning was something of a done deal, then recent comments from the organization made everything seem very much up in the air.

Today’s meeting is the first step back in the other direction, and it shows the Steelers actually do have some intention of working something out with their franchise icon. We should know a lot more about this meeting and what comes next soon.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Art Rooney II: Ben Roethlisberger Needs To Alter Contract If He Wants To Come Back

Everything we had heard indicated Ben Roethlisberger wants to come back for one more run in 2021, and that much was confirmed today by Steelers owner Art Rooney II. However, Rooney made clear it’s far from a done deal on Pittsburgh’s end. 

Rooney said they can’t do it at Big Ben’s current salary, and that Ben knows that, per Mark Kaboly of The Athletic (Twitter link). Roethlisberger is currently set to have a $41.2MM cap hit for next season, which is obviously out of sync with the state of his play down the stretch this past campaign. “I think we’d like to see Ben back for another year if that can work, but as we’ve said, there’s a lot of work to be done to see if that can happen. There may need to be decision to be made for that to happen,” Rooney said cryptically, per Brooke Pryor of ESPN.com (Twitter link).

It sounds like Roethlisberger is going to need to take a significant pay cut, or at least alter his contract to add non-guaranteed years that would reduce his 2021 cap hit, if he wants to play another season in Pittsburgh. As for a potential successor, Rooney said “I think when you look at our room, we’ll have to add somebody to the room this offseason. We’ll look at all the opportunities we have to do that,” Pryor tweets.

Roethlisberger returned from elbow surgery this past year and initially led the team to an 11-0 record, but the offense completely unraveled in the second half as Big Ben was unable, or unwilling, to consistently push the ball down the field.

Roethlisberger isn’t the only key member of the organization who has his future up in the air, as GM Kevin Colbert is on a year to year arrangement and has flirted with retirement. That being said, Rooney did say as of right now he believes Colbert will be running the front office in 2021, Pryor tweets. “I feel like Kevin is going to come back, but who knows,” he said.

Rooney acknowledged the team is in a tough cap situation, especially with the cap expected to fall next year due to COVID-19 related revenue losses. What exactly will happen with Roethlisberger, 39 in March, seems uncertain, but at least we know for sure now that he isn’t retiring.

Rooney made it sound like the team isn’t exactly thrilled to be running it back, but in all likelihood this will end with Roethlisberger and the team agreeing to an altered contract, and we’ll see Big Ben under center come Week 1.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Extra Points: Coaches, GMs, Schedule, OTAs

After the NFL expanded the Rooney Rule this offseason, it has a “ready list” of minority candidates for head coaching jobs, offensive and defensive coordinator positions and GM candidates, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio. Beyond some of the big names — Eric Bieniemy, Marvin Lewis, Todd Bowles, Leslie Frazier among them — coaches like Clemson OC Tony Elliott, Penn State HC James Franklin and Michigan State HC Mel Tucker appear on the HC portion of the list. On the GM side, some first-time candidates include Bills pro scouting director Malik Boyd, Raiders pro scouting director Dwayne Joseph, Ravens exec Vincent Newsome and Chargers player personnel director JoJo Wooden. Former Cardinals safety Adrian Wilson — now the franchise’s pro scouting director — also appears on the GM portion of the list. The Rooney Rule now mandates teams interview two minority HC candidates and expanded the rule to include coordinator positions. Franchises must also open their senior-level executive jobs to minority and female candidates.

Here is the latest from around the league:

  • Normal NFL offseasons feature several weeks’ worth of OTAs preceding a June minicamp, but the NFLPA would like a schedule that looks closer to this year’s virtual offseason. Union executive director DeMaurice Smith said “there is absolutely no reason” for the NFL to return to full-scale OTAs, per Sports Business Daily’s Ben Fischer (subscription required). Having seen no decline in performance after this atypical offseason, union president J.C. Tretter agrees with Smith. This would be a stretch for coaching staffs, which have steadily seen their time with players cut back. The past two CBA agreements have significantly limited offseason and padded training camp workouts, and 2020’s COVID-19-altered offseason created steeper acclimation challenges for young players.
  • The NFL has agreed to a formula for its 17th regular-season game, making it increasingly likely this season will be the last one of the 16-game era. In what will be the first shift to the league’s scheduling setup since 2002, the 17-game schedule will feature a fifth interconference game. The schedule will pit an AFC division winner against an NFC division winner, and on down the line within each division, but the extra interconference game will not feature two teams who played the previous year, Albert Breer of SI.com notes. In the event the NFL moves to the 17-game season in 2021, the Chiefs and Buccaneers could not play again next season; the earliest such a regular-season rematch would occur would be 2022.
  • Roger Goodell may well be on board with shortening the preseason slate from four games to two. The commissioner “seemed in favor” of halving the preseason schedule at last week’s owners meetings, according to ESPN.com’s Seth Wickersham, but some high-profile owners are not. Jerry Jones, Robert Kraft, John Mara and Art Rooney II dismissed the idea of going from three preseason games — the new number as of the 2020 CBA — to two, according to ESPN. No vote occurred on the matter, though Goodell discussing the idea publicly points to it remaining an issue going forward.

North Notes: Ravens, Amos, Steelers

Rumors of the Ravens becoming the latest team to execute a tag-and-trade transaction have not surfaced in months, and Matt Judon is not expecting to be dealt. The franchise-tagged outside linebacker signed his tender Thursday night and expects to be with the Ravens this season, Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.com tweets. Although the Ravens acquired All-Pro defensive lineman Calais Campbell, they did not make a big move at outside linebacker this offseason. They will need their top 2019 edge defender back to anchor their pass rush.

Here is the latest from the North divisions, continuing first with more news out of Baltimore:

  • John Harbaugh said (via Childs Walker of the Baltimore Sun) cornerback Jimmy Smith could see some time at safety. The veteran cornerback re-signed earlier this year and is set to play a 10th season in Baltimore. The Ravens have Earl Thomas and the recently extended Chuck Clark at safety, so it will be interesting to see how they deploy Smith this season.
  • The pectoral injury Adrian Amos battled in the playoffs did not require surgery, and the Packers safety said he is back to 100%, per Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, on Twitter. Amos played all but four of Green Bay’s defensive snaps during the regular season but was unable to finish the NFC championship game.
  • Two of the league’s most influential decision-makers were against the fourth-and-15 proposal, which the NFL tabled Thursday. Both Steelers owner Art Rooney II and HC Mike Tomlin, the latter a member of the competition committee, came out against the proposal — one that gained steam from last year to the point where ownership was split on it. “We’re open to thinking, ‘Is there something we can do with the kickoff in more of a traditional setting that might allow onside kicks a better chance of happening? But this one was too much of a gimmick,” Rooney said, via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “(Tomlin) and I didn’t like the idea.” Rooney said interest remains in finding an alternative to the current onside kick setup, which has hindered comeback efforts since a recent rule change prevented kicking-team players from running starts prior to the kick.

Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

We learned yesterday that Steelers owner Art Rooney II and All-Pro receiver Antonio Brown will sit down to clear the air in Florida. We now know that meeting is expected to happen next week, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler writes

Brown hasn’t been shy about his desire to be traded this offseason, and just recently the star wideout took to Twitter to answer questions about his relationship with the team, coach Mike Tomlin and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It marks the latest in a long line of headline-grabbing actions from the receiver in 2019, who in addition to requesting a trade, was also involved in a domestic dispute in January.

Should the Steelers emerge from the meeting with Brown determined to trade him, they will unsurprisingly look to move him to an NFC team first, Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes. It has been reported that Brown desires to play in San Francisco, while teams like the Cardinals, Jets and Raiders have emerged as teams expected to be in the running for his services. It is unlikely that a team would trade a first-round pick for the veteran receiver, who is owed $36.5MM over the next three season, but a team could be willing to part with a second- or third-round selection. Bouchette notes that trade talks are expected to commence at the NFL Combine, which begins in less than two weeks.

Despite the tumultuous end to the season and beginning of the offseason, Brown is undoubtedly still at the top of his game. The 30-year-old widoeut earned his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl selection in 2018, finishing with 104 catches, 1,297 yards and a league-leading and career-high 15 touchdown receptions.

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Steelers, Antonio Brown Still In Talks

Although the odds Antonio Brown is wearing a different uniform are still fairly decent, the All-Pro wide receiver continues to talk with members of the Steelers front office.

The Steelers have yet to grant Brown or agent Drew Rosenhaus permission to seek a trade. During this time, however, Brown has maintained a steady dialogue with some Steelers personnel executives, Ian Rapoport of NFL.com notes (video link), adding that the relationship remains solid between Brown and some members of the front office.

However, Brown has not discussed his situation with Kevin Colbert or Mike Tomlin, Rapoport adds. Nor has Brown returned Art Rooney II‘s phone calls since the season ended, Mark Kaboly of The Athletic notes (subscription required).

As of Monday, Brown’s preference is still to be traded. Brown has been most connected to the 49ers, the latest link being a Photoshopped image of a No. 84 49ers jersey. But not much has developed on that front since rumors the Steelers might initiate trade talks surfaced.

Brown and Tomlin obviously did not leave things in a good place after the season ended. But Rooney appears to have softened his stance about the 30-year-old superstar returning to Pittsburgh in 2019. Brown still has some support in the Steelers’ locker room as well. Rooney, however, added the caveat of likely needing to hear some sort of an apology from Brown for his Week 17 actions if the parties will move forward together.

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Latest On Steelers, Antonio Brown

Steelers owner Art Rooney II hasn’t been shy while opining on the status of disgruntled wideout Antonio Brown, first noting it’s “hard to envision” Brown being with the team in training camp before admitting there are “not that many signs out there that” Brown is going to offer any sort of apology for his Week 17 meltdown. But Rooney used a slightly softer tone when discussing Brown this week, as Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune writes.

“There are a lot of factors we have to take into account on it,” Rooney said. “We’d have to sit down with Antonio and understand where he is and make sure he understands where we are. There is some work to do before we figure that out.”

If Brown is cut or traded before June 1, the Steelers will incur more than $21MM in dead money on their salary cap and gain just over $1MM in new space. If he’s designated as a post-June 1 cut or traded after that date, Pittsburgh will take on roughly $7MM in dead money in 2019 and ~$14MM in 2020.

As Rutter notes, Brown is due a $2.5MM roster bonus on March 17, so the Steelers would likely trade him before paying out that total. Trades can’t be officially processed until the new league year begins on March 13, but agreements can be in place before then.

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Latest On Antonio Brown, Steelers

On Friday, Antonio Brown, through his rep, declined to comment on prospective trade talks. However, the receiver is reportedly open to either being traded or returning to the Steelers in 2019, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets

According to Fowler, the perennial Pro Bowl pick is “open/eager” to prove he can thrive in any offense, but is fine with returning to Pittsburgh “if things shake out that way.” This comes a day after Steelers president Art Rooney II said it would be “hard to envision” Brown with the team next season.

This has all spiraled out of control fast since Brown’s blowup leading up to Week 17, which led head coach Mike Tomlin to bench him for a pivotal game against Cincinnati. Shortly thereafter, it was reported the star receiver was requesting a trade.

Thanks to the $19MM signing bonus he received in his four-year, $68MM extension and the $12.96MM restructuring bonus he later secured, cutting or trading Brown would result in a $21.12MM cap charge in 2019.

While it could be difficult to deal the wideout financially, the Steelers seem willing to explore trading Brown. Despite the hefty price tag, Brown is sure to find suitors looking to get its hands on the most consistent receiver from the last five years.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Chargers, Gore, Broncos, Browns

San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer did some scouting before this week’s critical Los Angeles-related owners’ meeting, in paying visits to three owners and commissioner Roger Goodell, according to David Garrick of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Along with Goodell, Faulconer met with John Mara (Giants), Robert Kraft (Patriots) and Jerry Richardson (Panthers) — each a member of the six-owner committee in charge of assessing Los Angeles’ feasibility as the Chargers, Raiders and Rams vie for relocation — and has requested summits with the committee’s other members, Clark Hunt (Chiefs), Bob McNair (Texans) and Art Rooney II (Steelers).

The prior trio of owners, however, did not say to Faulconer which way they were leaning, or if they did, Faulconer is not communicating that sentiment to the media. Per Garrick, the mayor’s expressing confidence thanks to a joint-county $1.1 billion stadium plan that would call for the prospective new Chargers’ home to be built over Qualcomm Stadium.

No votes are expected on Los Angeles at this week’s meeting, with a final decision likely coming around Super Bowl week, according to Garrick.

Here is some news from the facilities of the Chargers’ AFC brethren.

  • Due to Ty Sambrailo‘s shoulder injury, Peyton Manning will have another first-time blocker Sunday when Michael Schofield joins the Broncos‘ starting offensive line, per Arnie Stapleton of the Associated Press. A third-round pick in 2014, Schofield’s been deactivated for each of the 20 games he’s been on the active roster, counting Denver’s divisional playoff loss last season, and he will take Ryan Harris‘ place at right tackle as Harris shifts to the left side.
  • Colts running back Frank Gore remains miffed 49ers GM Trent Baalke didn’t communicate with him this offseason he left the team after 10 years this winter, Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com writes. “The only thing I was hurt by was that I thought we could have (separated) better,” Gore told the Indianapolis Star’s Stephen Holder. “I don’t know if I even wanted to go back. But I would have felt better if we would have sat down and had a conversation. I mean, I was going to test the market no matter what. Me and the head coach talked and he basically told me I’d be in a certain situation. But I wanted to hear it from the GM.
  • In addressing the issues with the Browns‘ offensive line, Terry Pluto of cleveland.com doesn’t think Joel Bitonio and Alex Mack are performing to the level they did at this point last year. The Browns rank 26th in rushing yards, and Football Outsiders grades the Cleveland front as the 27th-best power-blocking quintet thus far.