Late last week, just as the Pittsburgh Steelers were heading into training camp, the front office took the unusual, and perhaps slightly out of character, step of publicly addressing the topic of their franchise quarterback’s contract situation.
While Ben Roethlisberger contract runs through the 2015 season, the Steelers have traditionally attempted to work out an extension for their starter at the quarterback position two years in advance of the current deal expiring, which they elected not to do this season.
Near the middle of the 2013 campaign, the football equivalent of the paparazzi or TMZ began producing stories suggesting that Roethlisberger was unsatisfied with the progress of the organization, and even wanted to be traded, while the team was muddling through a disastrous slide that ultimately doomed their season.
While the Steelers were able to right the ship by season’s end, those same writers continued to promote the narrative of discord between the organization and their franchise quarterback, intimating that the lack of a new contract reached between the two sides was proof that there was a growing divide.
Perhaps it was in part because of these unsubstantiated rumors—frankly, I would lean against that being the case—but the Steelers and team president Art Rooney II elected to address the situation directly on the team’s website, stating outright that the front office would not be extending Roethlisberger’s contract this year, and explaining why.
According to the statement released, the Steelers elected to take the step of speaking to Roethlisberger about his contract situation in June, prior to the organization going forward and working on deals with other players, out of respect for the quarterback, and to take the time to explain how this was in the best interests of the team.
Not long after, the Steelers worked out a five-year extension with center Maurkice Pouncey, who is coming off an ACL injury. They are also expected to attempt to work out an extension with cornerback Cortez Allen, while a new deal with the transition-tagged outside linebacker Jason Worilds, is still a possibility.
Ben wants to be part of a winning team, to be in a position to compete for championships, and he understands that in order to do that we need to try to keep as many of the other players around as we can. So, addressing the players who are going into the final years of their contracts in 2014 makes sense. That’s what he and I talked about.
We also talked to Ryan [Tollner, Roethlisberger’s agent], just so that there was communication with him as well, so that they understood the direction in which we wanted to proceed. We wanted to make sure they were understanding that we do want to make a commitment, that we do want to address Ben’s contract next year. It’s not a situation where we’re saying we want to put it on hold. We did assure him that next year is the time frame in which we want to address it.
Whether or not this somewhat atypical move had anything to do with the media-driven melodrama over Roethlisberger’s status in Pittsburgh, it will hopefully begin to put that narrative to rest, at least until his next extension is set to expire.
It was made abundantly clear in the statement that the organization intended to show Roethlisberger the highest degree of respect in addressing his contract position beforehand and going through their offseason outlook with him.
It’s also clear that Roethlisberger’s stature within the organization has been on a steady upward trend for the last few years. He’s blossomed into the true leader and face of the franchise, and the team chose to reward that progress with this token of respect and public dialogue.