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Steelers optimistic Ben Roethlisberger will return in 2021

After a deliberate climb to the top of the NFL standings, the Steelers experienced a precipitous fall to close out their season. Similarly, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in vintage form for the better part of three months before showing his age in the stretch run.

So was last week's wild-card loss the last we'll see of the future Hall of Famer? Probably not.

There is optimism within the organization that Big Ben will be back in 2021, NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported Saturday. Coach Mike Tomlin said earlier in the week that a Roethlisberger return is welcome. It would involve a new yet still familiar offensive coordinator. After parting ways with longtime assistant Randy Fichtner, the Steelers are expected to promote QBs coach Matt Canada, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport and NFL Network's Tom Pelissero reported.

Part of the discussion between Big Ben and Pittsburgh moving forward will likely involve his contract. He's on the books for one more year at $19 million, which is hardly burdensome. But his cap hit is a whopping $41 million. Seventeen years into their marriage, the two sides shouldn't have issues alleviating that figure, Garafolo noted.

A restructure would help the team retain some of its impending free agents. Per Garafolo, Roethlisberger has already communicated that if he returns he wants wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster on board as well.

The two went out swinging a week ago in Pittsburgh's defeat to the Browns. Smith-Schuster posted season highs of 13 catches and 157 yards. Big Ben's 47 completions, 501 yards, 4 touchdowns were also his top marks of the 2020 campaign. But so were his four interceptions. They capped a late-season swoon from the 38-year-old.

After throwing 22 TDs to just 4 INTs over the first nine games of the season, made even more impressive by the fact he missed nearly all of 2019 with an elbow injury, his ratio plummeted to 15-10 over the last eight. His struggles, of course, coincided almost entirely with the Steelers, who started off 11-0 before losing five of their final six games.

That's not how they wanted to go out. It would be a surprise if that's how it ended for Roethlisberger.

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