The future of Roethlisberger

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With the Steelers struggling, with no end in sight to those struggles and with the idea of firing the head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and general manager kind of worn out, the matter of trading Ben Roethlisberger was certain to surface. And it has.

The thought-process behind such a suggestion is obvious. The Steelers do not have the look of a Super Bowl contender now or in the foreseeable future. Which means, the thinking goes, they don’t have need of an elite quarterback and he should be traded for a bonanza of draft choices.

That’s like the thinking of some baseball fans who maintain bad teams don’t need closers. Bad baseball teams want and need to win games and having a good closer makes that task easier. It’s the same in football only more so because a quarterback is more important than a closer.

Roethlisberger, whose contract expires after the 2015 season, is not going to be traded any time soon and probably never. The salary-cap hit involved in dealing for him would be astronomical and one that few teams would be able or willing to take on. What’s more, if they were taking on a punishing cap hit by acquiring Roethlisberger, they would not be in the mood to surrender multiple high-round draft choices.

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be drama involving Roethlisberger in the near-future.

The normal time for the Steelers to begin negotiations on Roethlisberger’s next contract is this off-season. That might not happen for a number of reasons.

As Gerry Dulac wrote last month, the downside to having an elite quarterback is that the salary for such a player has become so enormous it limits the team from surrounding that quarterback with the kind of talent that can win a championship.

That's part of the Steelers problem this season. They were so cap-strapped -- not all due to Roethlisberger’s contract -- they were unable to participate in any meaningful way in free agency, which is a means of player acquisition that must be mined by all teams.

Roethlisberger’s current contract -- eight years, $102 million -- was signed in 2008. Such a deal made obvious sense. The Steelers had a young, elite quarterback surrounded by lots of good players and a wide Super Bowl window.

The factors that made sense in 2008 no longer exist.

Roethlisberger is not young. He’ll be 32 next season. His supporting cast is not close to what it was in 2008. There is no Super Bowl window for this team.

Not only that, NFL quarterbacks have been playing a can-you-top-this game with contracts recently. One of them was to Tony Romo of Dallas, who signed a deal worth $108 million at age 33 earlier this year. Roethlisberger is better than Romo, younger than Romo and has accomplished much more than Romo. It would stand to reason, he’d expect something similar, if not larger.

But would the Steelers be agreeable to such a scenario? It’s one thing make a $100 million deal with a quarterback when the team is a Super Bowl contender. It’s quite different when that is not the case. Quarterbacks are vitally important, but to give one a $100 million deal or something close to that is not necessarily a wise move with a bad team.

The exception to the recent binge of $100 million contracts was Tom Brady, who signed what is believed to be a deal below market this year with New England. But Brady’s situation is different than Roethlisberger’s in one very key area: Brady signed on with a Super Bowl contender. That is not likely something the Steelers could use to attract Roethlisberger.

And then there’s this:

Maybe Roethlisberger would prefer not to sign with the Steelers. It’s unusual for NFL players to balk at a new deal and head for free agency That’s more an MLB scenario. But with a mediocre team around him and with his future health endangered every time he take a snap because of an ineffective offensive line, Roethlisberger might prefer to finish his career elsewhere.

The first public move belongs to the Steelers. If they take a quarterback in the first round of the draft, it could mean Roethlisberger’s career in Pittsburgh is coming to a close.

The drama has been pretty much drained from the 2013 Steelers season. But not of the offseason.

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