Ben Roethlisberger

AFC Notes: Tomlin, Big Ben, Ravens, Texans

The Steelers announced Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will start in Week 17 against the Browns as Ben Roethlisberger rests up for the playoffs, but that isn’t the only quarterback question lingering over the franchise. Big Ben’s play fell off dramatically after the early part of the season, which has understandably led to some questions about the 38-year-old’s future. We heard just last week that Roethlisberger was planning on returning for 2021, the final year of his contract, but it might not be entirely up to him. Interestingly, head coach Mike Tomlin “will play a critical role in however Pittsburgh moves forward” at quarterback, sources told Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has indicated he could be headed for retirement soon, potentially giving Tomlin even more power here. La Canfora writes that the team is putting off these questions to the offseason, but while he cautions the team isn’t talking too much about Roethlisberger’s decline internally, it sounds like a lot of it will come down to what Tomlin wants to do. Obviously Tomlin and Big Ben have a close bond, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll immediately toss him aside, but “he will have a significant voice in the composition of the quarterback room in 2021,” La Canfora writes. Assuming Roethlisberger comes back, that could mean that Tomlin has more of a direct role in acquiring a potential successor. The 25-year-old Rudolph was serviceable at times last year, but also struggled mightily at others. He hasn’t shown much to inspire confidence that he can be a franchise quarterback. It’ll be a very interesting offseason in Pittsburgh.

Here’s more from the AFC:

  • The Ravens dealt with a brutal COVID-19 outbreak in the middle of their season, and the league has determined they were partially at fault. The NFL has slapped Baltimore with a $250K fine for protocol violations, as Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk writes, although they were not docked a draft pick like the Saints were. New Orleans lost a seventh-rounder, Las Vegas forfeited a sixth-rounder, and the Titans were fined $350K, so this is actually on the lighter side of COVID punishments. In a separate piece, Florio writes that strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders was the previously unnamed coach who was suspended for his role in the outbreak. Saunders is now back in the building with his job back after serving a suspension of about a month.
  • The Texans have a lot of work to do this offseason, most notably finding a new coach and GM after the firing of Bill O’Brien. Houston owner Cal McNair reportedly wants Deshaun Watson‘s input on who the next coach will be, but the team apparently isn’t in any rush to make a hire. That’s because the Texans do not intend to take advantage of the new NFL rule that would allow them to interview head coaching candidates currently on staff with other teams before the season ends, John McClain of the Houston Chronicle reports. Instead Houston is sticking to their plan of hiring a GM before a coach. They have however been interviewing candidates not currently with a team, including Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell recently. There have been murmurs that Watson would like Eric Bieniemy, who obviously is still currently employed by the Chiefs, so that interview won’t be happening immediately.

Ben Roethlisberger Intends To Return In 2021

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is under contract through the 2021 season, and he has no intention of hanging up the cleats before then. According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, the 38-year-old signal-caller will be back in 2021.

When Big Ben signed his latest deal in April 2019, Pittsburgh GM Kevin Colbert indicated it would likely be the franchise icon’s last contract with the Steelers. But Colbert later walked back those comments a bit, and owner Art Rooney II said he is open to another Roethlisberger extension that would take him into his age-40 season (and perhaps beyond).

Though Roethlisberger clearly has lost some arm strength and is averaging 6.3 yards per pass attempt — which would be a career-low for a season in which he has played more than two games — he remains one of the most accurate passers in the league and has thrown 29 TDs against just nine interceptions. All told, that amounts to a 94.9 QB rating, and his play is a big reason why the 11-2 Steelers are on the verge of an AFC North title.

A recent report indicated that the organization is concerned about Roethlisberger’s lingering knee injury and his increasing reliance on the short passing game, but Pittsburgh still profiles as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. And while Schefter says the campaign has indeed taken a physical toll on Roethlisberger, sources close to the quarterback say he is having too much fun and likes the team too much to retire at the end of the season.

Due to a contract restructure in March, Roethlisberger is set to have a gargantuan cap hit of $41.25MM in 2021. Even if the salary cap does not drop at all, one would think that another extension or some other type of kick-the-can-down-the-road machination would be in play in order to keep the rest of the roster as stocked as possible. There will still be some difficult decisions to make, but the Steelers will doubtlessly be happy to have their two-time Super Bowl champion back next season.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC North Notes: Green, Mayfield, Big Ben

During the Bengals’ loss to the Cowboys on Sunday, receiver A.J. Green moved within one touchdown of Chad Johnson for the franchise’s all-time record. But while he was chasing that milestone on the field, his comments after the game might be more significant. Speaking to the media, Green made it “very clear” there’s a good chance he won’t be back in Cincy next year, Ben Baby of ESPN.com writes. “I love my time here,” Green said. “Who knows what is going to happen? I will be ready for anything and be excited to get back to playing football whether it is here or somewhere else.” It’s a stark shift in tone for Green, who has always insisted he envisioned himself playing his entire career with one team.

Green is in the midst of a disappointing season that was supposed to be a triumphant comeback for the former All-Pro after he missed all of 2019 with an ankle injury. Cincinnati placed the franchise tag on him this offseason to buy some time on making a long-term decision, but his production obviously hasn’t matched his price tag so far. There was speculation earlier this year that he wanted to be traded after his usage declined, although he publicly denied that. So far on the year Green has caught only 41 of 88 targets, racking up 419 yards and two touchdowns. Baby notes that Green’s tone has “drastically changed,” and it looks like we might be nearing the end of what was a legendary run with the Bengals. For many years in a row, the fourth overall pick of the 2011 draft was one of the best wideouts in the game. Assuming he does explore his options on the open market this spring, at 32 and coming off multiple recent injury-plagued years, he likely won’t be getting any sort of big contract.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Baker Mayfield had himself a night on Monday Night Football, even as the Browns fell to the Ravens. The former first overall pick has really turned it on recently, and Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com wrote even before last night’s game that the young quarterback was “playing himself into blockbuster extension territory in the offseason.” Kay Cabot writes that the coaching staff in Cleveland has grown convinced as the season has gone on that they’ve got their quarterback of the future, and that if he closes the season strong “he can expect to receive the blockbuster extension in the offseason.” It’s been a nice turnaround for the Oklahoma product, as his struggles early on in the year had many questioning whether he was the long-term answer for Kevin Stefanski. With his performances the last few weeks, he’s silenced most of the critics. He has only one interception in his last six games, and has the Browns on the verge of clinching a playoff berth. Mayfield is still under team control for two more seasons after this one, and Kay Cabot writes that at the very least the Browns will be exercising the fifth-year option in his contract for 2022 this offseason. It sounds like he’s about to get a whole lot more than that though.
  • Mayfield isn’t the only member of the Browns looking for an extension. Receiver Rashard Higgins is playing out the final year of his deal, and while Kay Cabot writes Cleveland will “likely” re-sign him, she also says nothing is imminent on that front. While she notes that players like Higgins are in a holding pattern as teams wait to see what the 2021 salary cap will look like, she also says he “will likely be wrapped up long-term.” The 2016 fifth-round pick had a huge touchdown on Monday night, and now has at least 65 yards in three of his past four games. His playing time has fluctuated through multiple different coaching staffs during his time with the team, and he had only four catches in ten games last year. But when given the opportunity he has usually delivered, like when he had 572 yards and four scores in 13 games in 2018. Now, it sounds like he might finally get rewarded after playing 2020 on a deal that paid him only $910K.
  • The Steelers have now lost back to back games, and Ben Roethlisberger has struggled mightily in both of them. Even before Sunday’s loss to the Bills, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports wrote that sources told him Roethlisberger’s lingering knee injury has “become a source of greater concern” within the organization. Interestingly, La Canfora reports that Roethlisberger’s close relationship with offensive coordinator Randy Fitchner “has been the cause of some worry” within the team. La Canfora notes that Big Ben is granted wide authority to change calls as he sees fit, and the implication seems to be that he has been checking out of runs too much and dictating the short passing game offense that has begun struggling mightily in recent weeks. Roethlisberger has now gone four straight games averaging 5.8 yards per attempt or fewer. The ground game still wasn’t able to get anything going against Buffalo, and if Roethlisberger’s knee issue turns out to be more serious than we’ve realized, this Steelers offense could be in permanent trouble. This will be a situation to monitor as the regular season draws to a close.

Steelers Activate QB Ben Roethlisberger, Three Others

Following a brief stint on the COVID-19 reserve list, Ben Roethlisberger will be under center tomorrow against the Bengals. The Steelers announced that they’ve activated their quarterback from the COVID-19 list. The team also activated offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins, running back Jaylen Samuels, and linebacker Vince Williams.

The four players didn’t test positive, but they were close contacts of tight end Vance McDonald, who had a positive test earlier this week. As a result, these players had to isolate for several days and test negative before rejoining the squad.

“I’m doing good,” Roethlisberger said (via Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette on Twitter). “I feel great. If my body enjoyed the week off, my mind teaching pre-kindergarten did not enjoy the week off. It’s fun to be home, but I definitely missed the guys.”

Naturally, the team is now making up for lost time in their preparation for Cincinnati. ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler tweets that Roethlisberger was expected to participate in the Steelers walkthrough this morning, with the team hoping to get their veteran quarterback some extra time on the practice field.

After being limited to only a pair of games in 2019, the 38-year-old has played a major role in the Steelers undefeated record in 2020. Roethlisberger has completed 68.1-percent of his passes (a mark that would be a career high) for 1,934 yards, 18 touchdowns, and four interceptions.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Steelers Place Ben Roethlisberger On COVID-19 List

The Steelers have placed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the COVID-19 reserve list, per a club announcement. Running back Jaylen Samuels, offensive lineman Jerald Hawkins, and linebacker Vince Williams have also been added to the list. 

The news comes just hours after tight end Vance McDonald was parked with the same designation. Per league rules, each Steelers player will have to isolate for several days and test negative before rejoining the team.

Roethlisberger is not believed to have tested positive. Instead, he was deemed a high-risk, close contact, according to ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter (on Twitter). Depending on what happens from here, the QB may have a chance to start on Sunday against the Bengals.

Meanwhile, Big Ben is hoping to heal up from double knee injuries suffered against the Cowboys. Despite that setback, Roethlisberger and the Steelers won 24-19 and advanced to 8-0 on the year.

Steelers Open To Ben Roethlisberger Extension Beyond 2021

Ben Roethlisberger is entering a pivotal season. Should he stay healthy, the Steelers may be a Super Bowl contender. But the 38-year-old quarterback is attempting to return from a serious elbow injury. This setback followed numerous less severe maladies over the course of his career.

But the Steelers have committed to their future Hall of Famer, not drafting a true heir apparent nor bringing in a higher-caliber backup this offseason. Unlike the other teams who drafted star quarterbacks in the early and mid-2000s, they have not unveiled a new long-term plan. And they are open to pushing this one beyond Roethlisberger’s current contract expiration.

Steelers owner Art Rooney II said he is open to another Roethlisberger extension, one that would take him into his age-40 season. Big Ben’s latest re-up — a two-year, $68MM deal agreed to in 2019 — runs through 2021. Roethlisberger is already the longest-tenured player in Steelers history.

Obviously after the season we’ll evaluate his contract situation along with other contract decisions we have to make,’’ Rooney said, via Ed Bouchette of The Athletic (subscription required). “But if Ben feels like playing longer and it looks like he’s capable of doing it, certainly that would be a great scenario.”

These comments contradict what GM Kevin Colbert said at the time of the extension. He called the 2019 contract likely Roethlisberger’s last. Roethlisberger hinted at retirement for a time, but after the Steelers moved on from OC Todd Haley, he changed his tune. Colbert also backtracked a bit from his comments about his Roethlisberger plan and may be open to his quarterback joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees in playing past 40.

The Steelers already restructured Big Ben’s deal this year, bumping his 2021 cap hit to an untenable $41.3MM. A fifth Roethlisberger contract could reduce that number, though the 17th-year passer will certainly need to show he has recovered from the elbow injury this season for the parties to discuss another pact.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

AFC Rumors: Enunwa, Steelers, Harris

Quincy Enunwa missed all of the 2017 season and 15 games last year because of a neck injury, and the Jets have ruled him out for the 2020 campaign by placing him on the reserve/PUP list. While the veteran wideout will only turn 28 Sunday, he already faces the prospect of his career being over. Enunwa, however, is not conceding that yet.

If I’m capable of playing, then that’s what I’ll do,” Enunwa said, via Rich Cimini of ESPN.com. “If it comes down to the fact that the doctors say I can’t, there’s not much I can do. There’s really nothing I can do there, but if I have the ability to [play], the passion will always be there, the want-to will always be there.”

Enunwa signed a four-year, $33.4MM extension in December 2018. That deal included $20MM in guarantees, which have become crucial for the embattled receiver. The former sixth-round pick will earn $6MM in base salary this year and has a $4.1MM injury guarantee for 2021. Despite the Jets fining him $27K for missing two rehab sessions last year, Enunwa would like to stay with the team for the remainder of his career. It is unlikely, however, Enunwa — drafted two regimes ago — will be with the Jets in 2021. They can save $6MM by releasing him after this season.

I’m under contract. I want to be a Jet for life,” Enunwa said. “I saw Eli Manning say something. On his Twitter page he wrote, ‘Once a Giant, always a Giant, only a Giant.’ It would be cool to say that as a Jet.”

Here is the latest from the AFC, shifting first to Pittsburgh:

  • Ben Roethlisberger has progressed to the point he would have been ready to fully participate in Steelers OTAs, had those been non-virtual endeavors, Ed Bouchette of The Athletic notes (subscription required). Roethlisberger threw with teammates recently and appears on track for Pittsburgh’s training camp. This would be big news for a team that did not address its quarterback situation this offseason.
  • One of Big Ben’s top targets underwent surgery earlier this offseason. Diontae Johnson went under the knife for a core muscle injury in February, Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes. Johnson said he suffered the injury in Week 2. That did not deter him from leading all rookie wideouts with 59 catches — while posting 680 yards and five touchdowns — for a team that played most of the season two backup quarterbacks. Johnson hopes to be medically cleared within days, Fittipaldo adds.
  • Chris Harris confirmed he will play a familiar role with the Chargers. The ex-Broncos standout will play both outside and in the slot, per Lindsey Thiry of ESPN.com (on Twitter). While Harris played mostly on the outside in 2019, he earned All-Decade acclaim by playing both roles during his previous Broncos seasons. With Casey Hayward and Desmond King in the fold, the Bolts figure to have considerable versatility in their Derwin James-led secondary this season.

AFC North Rumors: Browns, Landry, Steelers

After undergoing hip surgery in February, Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry has pronounced himself “a little bit ahead of schedule,” according to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. Landry said he should be ready to return to field action at some point in August. At the moment, obviously, it’s unclear when/if training camp will officially get underway, but Landry figures to be ready during the preseason. Fresh off a campaign in which he posted 83 receptions for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns, Landry had hoped to avoid surgery in favor of a rest-and-rehab schedule, but ultimately went under the knife.

Here’s more from the AFC North:

  • Ben Roethlisberger, who missed the majority of the 2019 season after suffering an elbow injury, had already resumed throwing in February, but this week, he started throwing to his teammates. In a video tweeted by Roethlisberger, the veteran quarterback is shown throwing to Steelers pass-catchers JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ryan Switzer, and James Conner (and subsequently undergoing a haircut and shave). Now 38 years old, Roethlisberger had hoped to gain full medical clearance by the summer. He’s signed for two more years, with a whopping $41.25MM cap charge on the books for 2021.
  • Former Packers area scout Charles Walls has joined the Browns‘ front office, reports Rob Demosky of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Walls will receive a promotion in Cleveland and will hold the title of national scout, per Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal (Twitter link). Walls, who had been with Green Bay since the 2013 season, had covered the Southeast region for the Packers.
  • In case you missed it, the Ravens are considering an out-of-state training camp location due to COVID-19 concerns.

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Restructures Contract

The Steelers continue to rework contracts as they look to clear up some extra cap space. Now, their franchise quarterback is participating in the cap machinations. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reports that Ben Roethlisberger has restructured his contract.

The veteran inked a new three-year, $80MM deal with the Steelers back in April. The 38-year-old was limited to only two games in 2019 as he recovered from an injured elbow, but he set career-highs in passing yards (5,129) and touchdowns (34) in 2018. He also made four-straight Pro Bowls between 2014 and 2017.

Roethlisberger joins a growing list of Steelers who have restructured their contracts in recent days. As Dulac points out, that list includes the likes of tight end Vance McDonald, cornerbacks Joe Haden and Steven Nelson and kicker Chris Boswell. When also accounting for the team’s released players, the organization has already opened up around $35MM in cap space.

Ben Roethlisberger Aiming For Full Clearance By Summer

On the road back to becoming the Steelers’ starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger cleared key hurdles this week. After a positive medical checkup, the future Hall of Famer resumed throwing.

But the 17th-year veteran remains a long way away from working out with his teammates in a full capacity. Roethlisberger said it will be around 2 1/2 to three months before he expects to be full go, according to Ron Cook of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (on Twitter). Roethlisberger underwent elbow surgery in September.

The soon-to-be 38-year-old quarterback said his checkup went smooth enough he was given the go-ahead to skip the tennis ball-throwing stage of this rehab and go straight to footballs, and he has multiple additional throwing sessions coming up in California (Twitter link via Cook). However, it is unlikely he will be a full participant in any Steeler OTA session. Although Pittsburgh’s June minicamp is beyond the three-month window, that might be a stretch as well.

Both Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are confident Big Ben will make a full recovery and be ready to resume his role as the Steelers’ starter. Years ago, Roethlisberger hinted at retiring by this age. But he since changed course. The Steelers gave Roethlisberger a new contract last year; the two-year, $68MM extension runs through 2021. Of the class of 2004 quarterbacks, he will soon be the last one standing on his original team. Eli Manning retired, and the Chargers will not re-sign Philip Rivers. Big Ben is the second-longest-tenured quarterback in the league, and if Tom Brady surprises most and leaves the Patriots, he will ascend to the top spot.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.