For a minute this offseason, it appeared the Pittsburgh Steelers might actually move on from Ben Roethlisberger given his high salary-cap hit.
In the end, Big Ben took a $5 million pay cut to return for another year on a re-worked contract.
During a chat with fans on Thursday, Steelers president Art Rooney II said the club wanted the 39-year-old back as long as the money worked. It didn't sound like performance was a question for the Pittsburgh franchise's president.
"We wanted Ben back," Rooney said, via the team's official website. "The key to it was to be able to restructure his contract in a way that allowed us to keep Ben and be able to sign some other players. Ben cooperated with that, was willing to make some changes in his contract, and that allowed us to keep him on the team this year which was always our goal.
"I thought Ben had a very good year last year for somebody that was coming off of arm surgery. Hopefully, he will have an even better year this year with another year under his belt in terms of recovering from that arm surgery. It was a very serious surgery, and we were uncertain how well he would be able to recover from it. He did a great job rehabbing and we are excited to have him back for this season."
Roethlisberger is coming off a season in which he completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 3,803 yards, his fewest in 15-plus games since 2008, with 33 TDs and 10 INTs. The Steelers got off to an 11-0 start, thanks largely to the defense, but the offensive inconsistencies finally caught up, as they went 1-4 down the stretch, including a playoff loss to rival Cleveland.
With a diminished defense due to several big-name losses stemming from the salary-cap situation, Pittsburgh needs Big Ben to be better in 2021 to have any chance of returning to the postseason.
Rooney also touched on several other topics in his fan chat:
- On eventual T.J. Watt extension: "We're certainly going to try. T.J. has another year on his contract. We certainly look at T.J. as a key player in the future. I can assure you we'll do everything we can to keep T.J. on the roster beyond this year. That is the goal.
- On retaining JuJu Smith-Schuster when it seemed like the WR was destined to leave in free agency: "JuJu was an important part of our offense last year and has been for the last few years. We were certainly hopeful that we would be able to sign JuJu back. The one thing about JuJu is he really wanted to come back and that certainly helped a lot. I'm glad we got him back. I look forward to him having another good year for us in 2021."
- On the Steelers run game, which came in last in total yards in 2020: "We've got to be a lot better in running. Certainly, we don't want to see the Pittsburgh Steelers being last in the league in rushing again ever. I think it's something our coaches are focused on, and we'll be looking for ways to improve in the draft. It's something we've got to fix, and we are working on it."
- On the 17-game schedule expected to be enacted by NFL owners: "The 17-game schedule I think will work out well. Obviously, this year will be the first year for it, so we'll get a chance to see how it goes. I think we will reduce the preseason by one game. It will be a similar kind of schedule in terms of the calendar, but we will just turn one of the preseason games into a regular-season game, which I think all of us would appreciate. I feel good about it, I hope it works, and I look forward to seeing how it does in 2021."
- On his optimism for having fans back in the stands this season: "I think we will. I am kind of optimistic about it. It's still early, it's only March, so we'll see how things go. I am optimistic we will have fans. Frankly I am optimistic we will have a full stadium by this fall. Hopefully everybody is out there getting the vaccine and is going to be able to get in crowds and things like that again. Hopefully, we are going to be back to pretty close to normal by the fall. Let's all say our prayers and keep our fingers crossed. But I am optimistic about it at this point."