PITTSBURGH -- Nearly two years ago, Ben Roethlisberger's life and his football career were in jeopardy following a serious motorcycle crash that came only a few months after he led the Pittsburgh Steelers to a Super Bowl victory.
Talk about a comeback. Not only did Roethlisberger return to being one of the NFL's best quarterbacks last season, he signed an eight-year extension Monday that guarantees him $36 million and makes him one of the league's top-paid players.
The contract is worth $102 million on paper, though Roethlisberger probably will never see much of that money, and is easily the largest given a player in the Steelers' 76-season history. Previously, safety Troy Polamalu's $30.19 million, four-year contract -- negotiated last summer and worth $15,375,000 in guaranteed money -- was the Steelers' gold standard.
Roethlisberger, who turned 26 on Sunday, gets $25 million immediately as a signing bonus.
"I told them I didn't want to go anywhere the day I walked in (as a rookie in 2004)," Roethlisberger said Monday. "I love Pittsburgh, I love the fans. Got probably the best organization and fans in all of sport. I don't want to go anywhere."
Nor did the Steelers want to lose the club's most successful quarterback since four-time Super Bowl winner Terry Bradshaw. Roethlisberger, drafted in 2004 as part of the same QB class as the Giants' Eli Manning and the Chargers' Philip Rivers, won all 13 regular-season starts as a rookie, began his career 27-4 and already has appeared in two AFC title games and seven playoff games.
"He's a Steeler and he'll always be a Steeler," team chairman Dan Rooney said.
In four seasons, Roethlisberger has steered the Steelers into two AFC Championship Games, one Super Bowl and three playoff appearances and was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2004. No Steelers quarterback, not even Bradshaw, had a better start to his career; Bradshaw didn't win a Super Bowl until his fifth season.
While Roethlisberger's contemporaries are Manning and Rivers, he said he "wanted to be like the Dan Marinos, like the John Elways, guys who played with one team their whole career."
The Steelers, quiet in free agency until signing running back-kick returner Mewelde Moore on Monday, felt some urgency to get a deal done with Roethlisberger, one that director of football operations Kevin Colbert called his top offseason priority.
Roethlisberger was due a $2.95 million bonus this month that, if paid, would have put the Steelers over the salary cap. By reworking Roethlisberger's contract now, they rolled that bonus into his new contract and can prorate his signing bonus over the eight-year life of the contract.
Roethlisberger did not want the distractions of a drawn-out negotiation, agent Ryan Tollner said.
"Ben never said, 'I need a record-breaking contract.' He never said, 'I need the most money in the history of anything,"' Tollner said. "He said, 'I need a fair deal.' "
With the contract out of the way, Roethlisberger -- who played in his first Pro Bowl last month -- said he is focusing on getting "a bunch more trophies."
"I believe that the guys we have on this team right now are exceptional players. I believe we all have the pieces of the puzzle, that we could be a championship football team, and I think that we know the history that we have of drafting well, we'll be able to bring guys in that will hopefully do more," he said.
Roethlisberger threw 32 touchdown passes with only 11 interceptions in leading the Steelers to a 10-6 regular season record and the playoffs last season, a major turnaround from his 23-interception season of 2006. He was one of the leading vote-getters for the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award.
By contrast, he never found a groove in 2006 after reporting to training camp only six weeks after his motorcycle crash in downtown Pittsburgh, then needed an appendectomy the week of the season opener. The Steelers went on to start 2-6 before finishing 8-8 during former coach Bill Cowher's 15th and final season.
Moore, the Steelers' only pickup during free agency, spent the first four seasons of his career with the Minnesota Vikings. A likely replacement for kick returner Allen Rossum, he returned two punts for touchdowns and averaged 10.4 per return while returning 74 punts from 2003-07. He averaged 19.3 yards on 26 kickoff returns.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press