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Commentary: Big Ben could make smart decision

by on March 16, 2014 2:00 AM

If you were Ben Roethlisberger, would you be asking for a contract extension from the Steelers?

He has two years left on the eight-year, $87 million contract that he signed in 2008. Which means, when his contract is up after the 2015 season, he will have made well over $100 million since coming into the NFL in 2004.

Not very many superstar, super-rich athletes are smart enough to make their life decisions based on something other than money after they’ve made enough of it to last five generations.

But maybe Roethlisberger is.

He becomes a free agent in 2016 when he’ll be 34 years old. If he’s still healthy and playing as well as he played when he was 31, he’ll be a $25 million a year quarterback, which means he’ll sign a contract worth well over $100 million.

Roethlisberger’s won a lot of games and had a lot of personal success since taking the league by storm in 2004, but he’s on a team now that is coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons and has gone three seasons without winning a playoff game. 

Right now, he has one experienced wide receiver on the roster and one running back. The defense that helped him win so many of those games is getting older and is being patched up with second- and third-tier free agents.

Why should he be in any hurry to sign a contract extension?

Wouldn’t it make more sense for him, assuming that he still has $40 or $50 million handy, to play out this coming season, see if the Steelers are the kind of team that can take advantage of a franchise quarterback and negotiate from a position of strength next February?

If the Steelers improve on their 8-8 finishes the last two years and make the playoffs, Roethlisberger will still be in a strong negotiating position by being one year away from free agency.

The Steelers will have no reason not to pay him the going rate for superstar quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger will be able to use his impending free agency for maximum leverage.

But, what if the Steelers go 6-10, which is not a far fetched notion?

There will be lots of discussion inside and outside the organization about Mike Tomlin’s future as head coach and the old guys on defense will be one year older. Roethlisberger will be four seasons removed from his last playoff win and he’ll be 33 years old.

That’s young enough to sign another $100 million contract with someone else but too old to commit to a team that will be either in turmoil or rebuilding mode or both.

For all the same reasons, the only reason for the Steelers to offer Roethlisberger an extension would be to get out of salary cap hell. If the Steelers miss the playoffs again this year, they can justify taking a “we can miss the playoffs without you” stance with Roethlisberger. Franchise quarterbacks are wasted on bad teams.

If the Steelers don’t have a winning season in 2014, it will be the first time they’ve had three non-winning seasons in a row since Chuck Noll’s first three seasons, 1969-71.

If that’s the case, by this time next year, Ben Roethlisberger may have already been traded.

Maybe upon his request.

• The Pirates have already made the decision to send their top prospect, outfielder Gregory Polanco, back to AAA Indianapolis, even though he was having a good spring. General Manager Neal Huntingon said before camp opened that Polanco would start the season there because he believes Polanco still needs to work on his approach at the plate.

That may be true but, since it’s the Pirates, there’s always the suspicion that it’s all about Polanco’s arbitration clock not starting until June. A team playing in a system as stupid as major league baseball’s, with a recent and not-so-recent past as pathetic as the Pirates’, loses the right to talk about moves made with the distant future in mind.

The best 25 players should be coming north in two weeks. And, even if Polanco needs to work on his offense, what about his defense? By all accounts, he is already a major league- caliber right fielder. His presence in right field could mean the difference in a few games between April and mid-June. And those few games could determine whether the Pirates make the playoffs for the fifth time in 35 stinking years. 

• Did Ziggy Hood actually play for the Steelers? If he did I must have missed it. Is there any proof?

• Bracket hints:

The 11th through 16th seeds are 190-729 in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. That’s 21 percent. The 14th through 16th seeds are 26-341. That’s 7 percent. The 15th and 16th seeds are 7-225. That’s .030 percent. The record of the No. 1 seeds is 437-120.

That’s 79 percent. The only seed to have a winning record against No. 1s — the 11th seed. They have won three out of five meetings. 



John Steigerwald's blog can be found at www.justwatchthegame.com, and he is the author of "Just Watch The Game." His column appears each Saturday.
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